Florida MEP’s Incumbent Worker Training

The manufacturing industry has seen its share of highs and lows over the past few years. Weathering challenges from an economic downturn to changes in federal regulations, companies have had to adapt to change often. Now, another significant change is being made to a crucial state program that will deal a great blow to the industry’s most vulnerable sector: small manufacturers.

The Incumbent Worker Training Program (IWT) provides grant funding for customized training for existing for-profit businesses of all sizes. IWT, a popular resource for Florida’s small businesses, helps businesses retain employees and maintain and increase competitiveness through skills upgrade training for existing full-time employees. Recently, state IWT grant money was cut for fiscal year 2013-14 from $5 million to $3 million. The past four years, all of the allotted funds were exhausted well before the needs of all interested companies were met. This $2 million reduction means even less money for these companies to train employees, meet regulatory and compliance guidelines and identify ways to thrive in a changing marketplace.

Facilitating Productivity

Helping to fill some of the IWT funding gap is the Florida Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s Small Business Consulting Program. This no-cost program provides expertise and leadership for manufacturers with ten employees or fewer to identify and solve problems. Each year, this nonprofit organization’s consultants assist hundreds of small manufacturers in identifying key business issues by assessing the needs of each organization and providing an improvement plan to help facilitate increased productivity and higher profits.

This small-business initiative is a result of MEP funding secured through the State of Florida. After meeting eligibility requirements associated with size and scope, companies are provided 16 hours of on-site support by MEP. Many local manufacturers in Brevard County have taken advantage of this program during a time when state and federal funding has been scarce, and as a result, they have successfully identified new markets and improved the production process.

  • To qualify, companies must meet the following criteria:
  • Be a manufacturer that manufactures in Florida. This includes job shops, fabricators, or assemblers;
  • Be registered in Dunn and Bradstreet with a manufacturing NAICS code;
  • Manufacture at the building/site where consulting will take place;
  • Employ no more than 10 people;
  • Be willing to respond to a short survey.

Once companies are approved for the program, Florida MEP manufacturing specialists begin by analyzing a company’s cost structure and profitability (P&L) followed by relevant discussions relating to the strategic plan, the sales & marketing plan, and manufacturing efficiencies. From this information, a short-term plan will be formulated with suggestions to assist these companies in getting to the next level.

Lean and Innovative

The plan is jointly prioritized, based on impact and ease of implementation, and the top three opportunities will become the action items to be resolved and implemented within the program’s allotted hours of work. MEP has experts who specialize in areas such as Lean Manufacturing and Innovation Engineering (LEAN), plant layout, value stream mapping, quality assurance, scheduling and set-up reduction.

IWT grant funds became available on July 1, and as in years past, they will likely soon be gone. So now is the time to contact MEP if you are interested in pursuing this program. For those companies that don’t qualify or are looking for a fresh approach, the MEP’s Small Business Consulting Program is also a viable option to open the doors to sustainable growth and profitability.

Although there is a large focus on small manufacturers, it’s not the only focus. A portion of our state funding also goes to help manufacturers with more than 10 employees. With a reach this broad, there is a custom MEP program available to companies of all sizes and specialties. There are many local success stories that can attest to the immediate benefits gained from utilizing these services. How can we help you? Contact Julie Song at (321) 305-5666 or julies@floridamep.org to get started.

Julie Song is Central Florida regional manager for the Florida Manufacturing Extension Partnership, an Investor of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.