Leadership Spotlight: Bill Rayl

August 27, 2014

Bill Rayl, a member of National Skills Coalition's Leadership Council, is the Executive Director of the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association, a not-for-profit association dedicated to improving the manufacturing climate of south-central Michigan by providing tools and resources for continuous improvement and success. Bill participated in the Skill2Compete Michigan Campaign's efforts to focus greater attention on creating training opportunities for middle-skill jobs, which make up the largest portion of jobs in the state’s labor market.

In the interview below, Bill discusses how involvement with NSC has helped to advance JAMA's mission. He also shares his take on ways to close the middle-skill gap in manufacturing and create pipelines to earning family-supporting wages.

Can you tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to focus on workforce development?

I’ve done a bunch of jobs over my career, many of which no longer exist today due to technology, so I’m much attuned to the need for continually upgrading skills to stay competitive in the labor market. My current position as Executive Director of JAMA is what led to my involvement in workforce development. Not long after I joined, the local community college was phasing out its manufacturing programs due to under-enrollment and a perceived lack of demand for these programs. JAMA then began to engage in serious conversations about ways we could promote and ensure skilled trades training. Over the course of the next year, JAMA brought 70 to 80 area manufacturers to the table to develop what has become the Academy for Manufacturing Careers Skills Trade Training Program, which JAMA manages.

What brought you to your position as executive director of the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association, and what do you feel has been your most meaningful accomplishment?

What brought me to JAMA was its dedication to making a real, positive impact on manufacturing in the region. We want to help manufacturers succeed and grow in a proactive way. The most meaningful accomplishment that I think I’ve had is bringing the Academy for Manufacturing Careers and other education components of JAMA to fruition in terms of getting the academy launched and training hundreds of people. We do a lot of training for adults including four-year apprenticeship programs and customized training. Our adult program targets short-term issues of employers who need skilled workers today. We also work with youth and we have programs all the way down to kindergarten. For us, that’s a long-term workforce engagement strategy.

A recent success is our partnership with the local school district and community college. We’re launching an early middle college manufacturing-specific high school program through which students can graduate with not only a high school degree, but also with an associate’s degree. Graduates will also have the opportunity to enroll in a school-to-registered apprenticeship with an employer and have potential for full-time employment. If we can give young students the opportunity to see themselves with a bright future, then we’re going to get some of the best and brightest to come to us in manufacturing. What we’re most passionate about is developing that pipeline and engaging kids at every level with career exploration and skill-building.

The manufacturing industry has been experiencing a significant middle-skill gap. What steps need to be taken in workforce development to ensure a robust U.S. manufacturing industry?

Tackling the middle-skill gap requires a comprehensive and regional approach; industry, education and workforce development have to work together to pool and align resources and create sector strategies. We need to bring all potential players to the table and figure out how they can help achieve the end goal: to create opportunities for all workers to make family-sustaining wages. We want people working towards making our communities more productive, rather than feeling the need to move elsewhere in order to have a good future for themselves and their children. We need to reach out into the K-12 system instead of waiting for students to finish high school to figure out ways to fit graduates into our workforce.

How has your partnership with NSC helped to advance your work in Michigan, and how has your work helped to inform and progress NSC’s efforts?

NSC is a broad and powerful platform for communicating and spreading information through the system, from the grassroots to the federal level. The connections with the individuals involved with NSC and all of the advocacy work that they do—I bring that back to the state of Michigan in working with our partners and all the other folks we connect with. There have been many meetings where the information that has been provided through NSC has helped move things forward regionally and at the state level.

I draw from diverse workforce backgrounds through my work with JAMA and through my connections to Michigan business communities, associations and manufacturing councils. Because Michigan was so hard hit during the economic downturn, we were in a sense at the forefront of the battle. We had to come up with all kinds of creative ways to put things together, and I strive to bring those experiences and perspectives to my work with NSC. It is a two-way, mutually beneficial process for me to be involved in NSC because it helps me do my job, which ultimately means I’m helping companies be more successful.

What encouraged you to engage with NSC at such a meaningful level as a member of NSC’s Leadership Council, and why should others consider doing so?

I first attended one of NSC’s Skills Summit and from there became more and more involved. The more engaged I became with NSC, the more value I saw in my involvement. Not only was I able to provide an additional voice and contribute to the work NSC does, I found more value to what I did on a day-to-day basis back here in Michigan. That really encouraged me to take the next step in joining NSC’s Leadership Council and continue to engage with NSC at the highest level that I possibly could. I certainly encourage anybody else to really consider engaging with NSC at any level the opportunity allows, because your organization will benefit greatly from it.