Manufacturers can’t wait for the government to address skills gap

March 8, 2012
Many existing programs already offer retraining and address the U. S. shortage of skilled manufacturing workers

In his State of the Union address, President Obama showcased the domestic manufacturing sector as the blueprint for our nation’s future. He spoke of “an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.”

No surprise there.

He referenced reshoring, skills training, and workforce development as keys to continuing the momentum of American manufacturing that we in the industry know to already be driving the national economic recovery.

No surprise there, either.

The critical shortage of skilled workers is indeed the greatest threat to American manufacturing. While the President did note some solutions to this crisis do exist, many manufacturers should have been surprised by the implication that more programs and more tools are needed to truly solve the problem.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers has, for years, been developing and executing solutions to our nation’s shortage of skilled manufacturing workers, and I can say without hesitation that the tools to solve this problem are already available.

SME has done more than simply talk about these issues. Our organization of manufacturing professionals has been supporting, advocating, and actually addressing workforce concerns with companies, educational institutions, other associations, and government partners.

Surely, continued government support is necessary and appreciated — for example, tax incentives for businesses creating American jobs. But what we really require now is a stronger commitment from manufacturers and academia to existing industry and government programs.

For instance, the recently expanded Skills for America’s Future program links corporations with community colleges. It fosters the use of industry-created certifications and mentorships focused on building the educated and skilled workforce that U. S. manufacturers need to successfully compete in the global economy.

The Manufacturing Institute’s Manufacturing Skills Certification System — which SME and other key organizations validated — creates a framework by which both companies and individuals can understand the needs of the future workforce. This system aligns with the Dept. of Labor’s Workforce Development Pyramid.

Ohio-based Tooling U, an SME program, offers more than 400 technical courses in a flexible, on-demand, and customizable online format. More than 1,200 companies and 500 schools have already taken advantage of the program and helped more than 100,000 workers upgrade their skills to meet the needs of today’s advanced manufacturing workplace.

These collaborative efforts pay off with qualified workers. The President spoke of the successful job transition of single mother Jackie Bray, who lost her job as a mechanic and earned new employment by redeveloping her skill set through a partnership between North Carolina-based

Siemens and Central Piedmont Community College, both of which use online technology training from Tooling U.

Millions of Americans are confronted with the same dilemma — needing new skills to secure employment, but facing financial or other hurdles to achieving those skills. Likewise, the skills gap Siemens recognized is far from an isolated situation. There are currently more than 600,000 available manufacturing jobs that are unfilled due to lack of skilled workers.

With time of the essence, how do we accomplish these employment successes at a much higher rate?

With the necessary resources to surmount these barriers already available, industry and academic leaders simply need to embrace them. In doing so, we will close the skills gap, develop the workforce the manufacturing sector needs, and improve the employment prospects of millions of Americans. This will provide the human capital this nation needs to continue its recovery.

Manufacturing must be at the core of a viable economy. But we can’t wait months or years for the government to create new programs. The answer is to use existing programs more effectively and to encourage widespread adoption. That can be accomplished by generating greater awareness of mutual benefits and by cutting through the “maze,” as the President put it, of confusing training options.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers, a leading source for manufacturing knowledge, education, and networking, collaborates with industry, academia, and government partners to support a skilled workforce. For more information, visit

Edited by Kenneth J. Korane

© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.

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