Industry Outlook: Invest In Tomorrow’s Workforce

EP Editorial Staff | August 19, 2011

0811cleaverIn a recent Congressional hearing, Georgetown University Public Policy Professor Harry Holzer stated, “The ratio of job vacancies to new hires in manufacturing is higher than we find in any other major industry group.”

Manufacturers are finding it difficult to fill positions today because the industry has evolved. Years ago, many manufacturing jobs required nominal skills—they could be performed by those with a high-school education. Today’s jobs, however, are highly specialized, and the U.S. talent pool isn’t deep enough to fill the growing void.

Leading companies are working to fill the gap and ensure the availability of a skilled workforce for years to come. Among their priorities: building educational alliances, investing in continuing education, establishing a mentoring program and supporting programs to attract young people to the field.

One of the best ways to ensure the availability of a well-trained workforce is for a company to build educational alliances with local universities and technical colleges. An experienced facility engineer can help recruit students into industry-specific degree programs based on their aptitude and interest.

Company engineers or technicians also can serve as advisors or instructors to help students obtain real-world skills. In addition, they can assist in curriculum planning to ensure students have the knowledge base necessary to succeed in the workplace.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) encourages manufacturers to think of employees as investments rather than expenditures. The association specifically recommends that companies invest at least 3% of their payroll in training.

Many manufacturers recognize the need for continuing education and offer an array of training programs to meet the growing need. These classes and seminars help ensure that engineers and technicians are educated about new and emerging technologies to stay competitive.

Within the next 15 years, the majority of today’s skilled workforce will retire. One way to combat the loss of experienced technicians is to implement a mentoring or in-house training program. Engineers who have been in an industry for decades should be paired with younger workers and share their knowledge with them, thus shortening the learning curve.

A mentoring program can have a positive effect on company morale as well. The more experienced workers feel their expertise is appreciated, while the younger employees appreciate the company’s investment in their future.

Attracting young people to pursue a career in manufacturing is critical to the long-term success of industry. A recent poll revealed that 52% of teens have little or no interest in a manufacturing career—another 21% are ambivalent about it. Turning these statistics around will take some work.

It’s vital that we educate young people about the many benefits of pursuing a career in manufacturing. Last year, Nuts Bolts & Thingamajigs and the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship started a summer camp that combines elements of manufacturing and entrepreneurship. The program is expected to grow to 300 locations throughout the country. During the camp, students tour local manufacturing facilities to learn what types of jobs exist, what skills and training are required and how different businesses developed.

Our country’s competitiveness in the global economy depends upon our commitment to educate and properly train today’s younger generations. If your company isn’t supporting an industry training or educational program, make it a goal to get involved in one by 2012. MT

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