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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

In Prelude to Manufacturing Day, a Trio of Experts Discusses Solutions for Jobs

Among the 100,000-plus visitors that convened in Chicago last month to check out latest in manufacturing innovations at IMTS 2012, a conversation trend was evident: There are not enough skilled laborers for many of the latest technology-based manufacturing platforms.

Solutions to the huge industry challenge were addressed in a joint education session by Steve Olson, deputy chief of staff and senior adviser at the Department of Commerce; Greg Jones, vice president of Smartforce development at the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT); and Raj Batra, president of the industry automation division of Siemens. The three discussed company initiatives and manufacturing education programs that can help ensure better worker placement into manufacturing jobs.

Here are some highlights of their collaborative session, titled “Gaining, Training, Retaining the Next Generation of Workers,” which pinpointed workplace initiatives, solutions for returning veterans and education programs positioned to revive American manufacturing.

Addressing Core Challenges 

Acknowledging that manufacturing has changing needs and is faced with an aging workforce and ongoing worker shortages, Olson began the session by referencing an alarming finding by the McKinsey Global Institute that warns, “…the United States could face a 1.9 million shortfall in technical and analytical workers.”

Olson is the current director of SelectUSA, created by President Obama’s administration last year. He explained that SelectUSA is a solution to help business investment in the U.S., in order to create jobs and economic growth and revive the nation’s manufacturing sector.

“Manufacturing does matter,” added Jones of AMT, who noted that the sector makes up 15 percent of U.S. GDP. He said the average manufacturing job pays an average $77,000 in salary per year versus $56,000 for all other industries.

“Regardless of what the number is, at a time when the nation’s unemployment rate is above 8 percent, we clearly have a problem to solve,” he urged.

One of the ongoing challenges as part of the labor shortage problem is to trying correct the public’s misconceptions about manufacturing. “There’s no better way to [conquer misconceptions] than by building excitement,” Olson noted, emphasizing that the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) has plans to launch a nationwide ad campaign to drive up interest.

“We also need to tap the talented pool of returning (military) veterans. Returning veterans already possess many of the skills, at least in some way, that are necessary to fill the skills gap in the manufacturing talent pipeline,” he said.

To fill open jobs with veterans, a new program started in July called “Veteran’s Retraining Program,” administered jointly by the Veteran’s Administration and the Department of Labor, will provide training and preparation for former armed forces members, according to Olson. Batra of Siemens added that the company has hired 500 veterans in the last 12 months.

Accelerating Education for Industry

“There are fewer and fewer opportunities in today’s manufacturing for that worker straight out of high school. It used to be that you could go to a manufacturing plant and learn the lower-skill jobs and work your way up,” Olson said.

With steady enrollment at four-year colleges and universities across the nation and student debt soaring, AMT’s Jones emphasized the need to get students to graduate sooner with little or no student debt. “Students don’t necessarily need a four-year degree right now,” he asserted.

Instead, the nation needs to invest in community college education, Olson said, calling it “a sweet spot for training manufacturing workers.” He referenced an $8 billion community college career fund co-administered by the Department of Labor and the Department of Education to help forge partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train over 2 million workers for well-paying jobs.

Batra noted that training and awareness need to the start earlier than the university level and should span to elementary and middle schools. He described a program called “Siemens Science Days,” which has reached over 73,000 students in stimulating interest in science and engineering. Siemens has also invested in FIRST, which holds innovative competitions to build science and technology skills among students.

Batra described several Siemens initiatives in place for students who are striving for manufacturing careers. As one of the largest employers in the world, with approximately 400,000 employees around the world, Siemens conducts the Global Opportunities in PLM (GO PLM) and the Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education (PACE) programs.

According to the company, GO PLM leads the industry in the commercial value of in-kind grants it provides and brings together four complementary community-involvement programs focused on academic partnership, regional productivity, youth and displaced worker development and the PACE program.

Other Industry Initiatives 

“It’s no secret that it’s election year, and [manufacturing] is at the forefront of the discussion when it comes to jobs,” said Jones. “As an industry, we have to make sure that manufacturing remains at the forefront once the dust settles after Election Day.”

In addition to certifications and education, a cohesive manufacturing plan for the country is needed, Jones said. In 2010 AMT published the first edition of the Manufacturing Mandate, a national manufacturing strategy to help rebuild and strengthen the U.S. manufacturing sector. Jones called the mandate a primer for a national dialogue on manufacturing.

This summer, AMT unveiled the second-generation Manufacturing Mandate, which was streamlined to keep the industry conversation clean and on point.

Tomorrow, on Manufacturing Day, which was coordinated in part by NIST and the Commerce Department, manufacturing facilities around the country will open their doors to students and the public to spread industry awareness. Manufacturing Day is designed to celebrate manufacturing and help small and medium-sized manufacturers particularly.

When asked about whether significant impact is being made on youth about manufacturing, Olson said, “I’m optimistic enough, with the success that we’ve seen, but the reality is that we still need to attract manufacturing itself back to the United States.”


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