American industry is facing a looming crisis in finding enough skilled workers to drive business performance in coming years. According to a study by the National Assn. of Manufacturers (NAM), more than 80 percent of manufacturers report shortages of qualified workers.
This shortage is the result of a variety of factors. These include misconceptions about the strength of American manufacturing and an aging workforce.
I'm convinced many young people don't consider careers in manufacturing because they think nothing is made in America anymore. While it's true changes in the global economy have resulted in shifting of production and losses in jobs, the headlines often overlook this simple fact — the U.S. is still the world's number one manufacturer, accounting for about a quarter of global activity, reports the World Bank.
According to an article published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, “A Leaner, More Skilled U.S. Manufacturing Workforce,” most manufacturing job losses have occurred in low-skill positions. Employment in high-skill positions has increased 37 percent over the last 20 years.
There are clearly opportunities for workers with the right skill sets and more will be available as the workforce ages. By 2012, workers age 55 and older will represent 19.1 percent of the total labor force.
So, what can be done to fill these opportunities? Numerous initiatives are underway, ranging from local, grassroots efforts to broader campaigns sponsored by leading industry groups.
For example, Florida Community College at Jacksonville is working with local businesses to develop courses specifically focused on that area's economy. It has training programs in trades used in ship repair and is talking with The North Florida Business Aviation Assn. about creating a scholarship to help students attend the airframe and power plant technicians certification program at FCCJ's Aviation Center of Excellence.
A wider-scale approach is the Dream It. Do It. career campaign sponsored by NAM and its research and education arm, The Manufacturing Institute. Dream It. Do It. began in 2005 as a pilot program in Kansas City and was recently launched in other strategic U.S. locations.
For more than 30 years, NADCA has also 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 highlighted the spectrum of disciplines and opportunities within the die casting industry. Projects ranged from handling traditional operational issues — such as relocating two machines in a casting cell — to reverse engineering research and support of a Six Sigma Greenbelt project to reduce robotic automation downtime.
Such real-world experiences can help convince students there are tangible job opportunities within industry. As one of the interns noted, “This was my only previous exposure to working in a manufacturing environment.”
Scholarships, coalitions or local training are just some of the ways industry can reach out to young people and help overcome the need for skilled workers.