The Society of Manufacturing Engineers today unveiled at IMTS 2012 in Chicago a national plan to coordinate efforts in tackling the labor shortage in American manufacturing and reverse the skills gap between those seeking employment and the requirements needed in open positions. SME’s action plan, called “Workforce Imperative: A Manufacturing Education Strategy,” calls for manufacturers, educators, professional organizations and government to coordinate and standardize their efforts, including those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education improvement.
In a press conference that announced the initiative, SME President LaRoux Gillespie reiterated the well-known statistic of 600,000 open jobs that U.S. manufacturing companies have trouble filling currently. “We’re not all working together or necessarily going in the same direction,” Gillespie said.
The action plan that SME announced contains six points:
- Attracting more students into manufacturing;
- Articulating a standard core of manufacturing knowledge;
- Improving the consistency and quality of manufacturing education;
- Integrating manufacturing topics into STEM education;
- Developing faculty that deliver world-class manufacturing education; and
- Strategically deploying resources to accomplish these goals.
But the main point that Gillespie stressed was the need for better coordination between the private sector, academia and the federal government. He was joined at the media conference by Jeannine Kunz, director of ToolingU, an SME company whose goal is to build comprehensive manufacturing workforce training programs. Kunz said that skills and worker training programs in various regions and states around the country are producing workers of varying standards. “We need to align skills to standards,” Kunz said.
She gave several examples illustrating how dire the labor shortage and skills gap situation has become for some companies. “Conversations inevitably turn to talk about the skills gap,” Kunz said of her interactions with manufacturers. “Some companies have had to rehire retirees,” she noted, because they have had trouble finding new employees with the proper skill sets.
The SME press conference featured the principal of a high school that is having success with its manufacturing training development program for students. Wheeling High School, which is about 20 miles northwest of Chicago, is one of six schools in the Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education (PRIME) program, sponsored by the SME Education Foundation. The high school has a training lab with CNC mills and lathes, as well as a 3-D printer and plasma cutter on which students in the PRIME program can develop their skills.
Wheeling H.S.’s principal, Lazaro Lopez, said 26 students are enrolled in the school’s PRIME program this fall and that a dozen students have already landed manufacturing jobs at local companies. But he said, “Schools need a coordinated partnership effort with industry.”
Gillespie said the Workforce Imperative is “a mandate for collaboration and standardization.” “We are providing a framework,” he said, and called for manufacturers nationwide to ”stand with SME” and endorse and adopt it. “We need action, we need things to happen.”