Skilled workers vital to vibrant economy

June 21, 2007
According to a study by the National Association of Manufacturers, more than 80% of manufacturers report shortages of qualified workers.

Daniel L. Twarog
North American Die Casting
Wheeling, Ill.

Edited by Lawrence Kren

Misconceptions about the strength of American manufacturing and an aging workforce are just two of the many the reasons cited for the shortage.

I'm convinced many young people don't consider careers in manufacturing because they think nothing is made in America anymore. But the headlines often overlook the fact that the United States is still the world's number one manufacturer, accounting for about a quarter of global manufacturing in 2004, according to the World Bank.

It's true changes in the global economy have shifted some production out of this country resulting in job losses. Low-skill positions have taken the biggest hit, according to an article published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, A Leaner, More Skilled U.S. Manufacturing Workforce. However, employment in high-skill positions has seen a 37% rise over the last 20 years.

Clearly there are opportunities for workers with the right skill sets, and more will come available as the workforce ages. By 2012, workers age 55 and older will represent 19.1% of the total labor force versus 14.3% today.

So, what can be done to fill these positions? A number of initiatives are underway, ranging from grassroots efforts to broader campaigns sponsored by industry groups.

For example, Florida Community College at Jacksonville works with local industries to develop courses focused specifically on that area's economy. It offers training in trades related to ship repair, and is talking with The North Florida Business Aviation Association about creating a scholarship to help students attend the airframe and powerplant technicians certification program at FCCJ's Aviation Center of Excellence.

A wider-scale approach is the Dream It. Do It. career campaign sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers and its research and education arm, The Manufacturing Institute. Dream It. Do It. aims to attract young people to manufacturing careers and expand their educational and training opportunities through strong coalitions with local civic, political, education, and business entities. Begun in 2005 as a pilot program in Kansas City, and recently launched in Northeastern Ohio, Nebraska, and southwest Virginia, the campaign will expand to other regions across the country this year.

For more than 30 years, NADCA also has been encouraging young people to pursue careers in manufacturing and die casting through its Laine Die Casting Internship & Scholarship Program. Applicants work in the die-casting industry for at least three months and submit a paper about their experiences.

Last year's internships ranged from the operational tasks of relocating two machines in a casting cell and visually determining the causes of defects in a cast part, to reverse-engineering research and support of a Six Sigma Greenbelt project to reduce robotic automation downtime.

Whatever the method, industrial leaders must develop a game plan for recruiting, retaining and training employees if American industry is to remain competitive in the years ahead.

NADCA is a trade organization that helps member companies compete domestically in a global marketplace. For information about the Laine Die Casting Internship & Scholarship Program, please visit: scholarship.htm

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