Archive for October, 2011

What Can I do to “save” American Manufacturing?

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

You may feel that there is nothing you can do as an individual to stop the total destruction of American manufacturing and watch the United States go over the precipice. Don’t think this way!   American activist and author, Sonia Johnson said, “We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference, and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history.” Eleanor Roosevelt echoed this sentiment saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Remember that our country was founded by a small group of people that did indeed change the world by forming the United States of America.

Here are suggestions of what each one of us can do:

As a Consumer:  It matters if we buy American-made products.  First, our addiction to imports has helped create our high trade deficit, especially with China, where most of the consumer goods we import are manufactured.  Second, American-made products create American jobs.  Each time you choose to buy an American-made product, you help save or create an American job.

Look at the country of origin labels of goods when you go shopping. Most imported goods are required to have these labels.  Buy the “Made in U.S.A.” even if it costs more than the imported product. It is a small sacrifice to make to insure the well being of your fellow Americans. The price difference you pay for “Made in USA” products keeps other Americans working.

If the product you are looking for is no longer made in America, then avoid countries such as China, who have nuclear warheads aimed at American cities. It would not be an exaggeration to say that American consumers have paid for the bulk of China’s military buildup. American service men and women could one day face weapons mostly paid for by American consumers. Instead, patronize impoverished countries such as Bangladesh or Nicaragua, which have no military ambitions against the United States.

In addition, you will be reducing your “carbon footprint” by buying a product made in America instead of a product that is made offshore that will use a great deal of fossil fuel just to ship it to the United States.

If you have a “Made in USA” appliance that needs repair and all the new ones are imported, have it repaired. If it can’t be fixed, and it is a small appliance that you can live without, then don’t buy a new one.

We Americans buy many things that we really don’t need just because they are so cheap. If a product that you are considering purchasing is an import, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” If you don’t need it, then don’t buy it.

If you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, you could ask to speak to the department or store manager of your favorite store. You could tell the person that you have been a regular customer for x amount of time, but if they want to keep you as a customer, they need to start carrying some (or more) “Made in USA.” products.  If you buy products on line or from catalogs, you could contact these companies via email with a similar message. Your communicating with a company does have an effect because the rule of thumb in sales and marketing is that one reported customer complaint equals 100 unreported complaints.

If you think that Americans no longer care about where goods are made or have concerns about the safety of foreign products, you may be surprised to learn that poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans prefer to buy American.

A nationwide poll conducted by Sacred Heart University in September 2007 found the following:

  • 68.6 percent of Americans check labels for information like manufacturer, nation of origin and ingredients
  • 86.3 percent of Americans would like to block Chinese imports until they raise their product and food safety standards to meet U.S. levels.3

Buying American has been made even easier by a book by Roger Simmermaker – “How Americans Can Buy American: The Power of Consumer Patriotism” released in March 2008 and updated in 2010.  According to Simmermaker, “buying American” is not just about buying “Made in USA.”  “Buying American, in the purest sense of the term, means we would buy an American-made product, made by an American-owned company, with as high a domestic parts content within that product as possible . . . ‘American-made’ is good. ‘Buying American’ is much better!”

One of our greatest statesmen, Thomas Jefferson, stated, “I have come to a resolution myself, as I hope every good citizen will, never again to purchase any article of foreign manufacture which can be had of American make, be the difference of price what it may.”

Simmermaker has made it easy by listing companies and their nation of ownership. You can see his list of American-owned companies at his website: However, Simmermaker’s website isn’t the only one available. You can also check many other websites, found simply by “Googling” “buy American.” These include:

There are also brick and mortar stores springing up around the country that are either stocking only “made in America” products, such as the American Apparel stores or primarily “made in America” products, such as the Urban Outfitters stores.

As American consumers, you have many choices to live safely and enjoy more peace of mind with American products. It’s high time to stop sending our American dollars to China while they send us all of their tainted, hazardous, and disposable products. If 200 million Americans refuse to buy just $20 each of Chinese goods, that’s a four billion dollar trade imbalance resolved in our favor – fast!

As a Voter:  There’s only one way for manufacturers to find relief from high taxes, burdensome regulations, and unfair trade laws and that’s through Washington, D.C.  Voter apathy is partially responsible for the state of our affairs as a country. Too many people have decided that there is nothing we can do on an individual basis and have even stopped voting.

Americans have been “sold down the river” by politicians on both sides of the aisle – Democrats and Republicans. Democrats profess to support “blue collar workers” and unions, yet NAFTA and the WTO treaties were approved and went into effect under the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton. Republicans profess to support business, yet they primarily support large, multinational corporations, rather than the small businesses that are the engine of economic growth in the U.S. and the foundation of the middle class.

In his 2008 book, “Where Have all the Leaders Gone” Lee Iacocca said, “Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind. The most famous business leaders aren’t the innovators, but the guys in handcuffs. And, don’t tell me it’s all the fault of right wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That’s an intellectually lazy argument and it’s part of the reason that we’re in this stew. We’re not just a nation of factions. We’re a people and we rise and fall together.  We didn’t elect you to sit on your butts and do nothing and remain silent while our country is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity.  What is everybody so afraid of?  Why don’t you guys in Congress show some spine for a change?”

In a poll asking Americans if they’ve ever contacted their elected representatives, eight out of ten said that they never had. It’s never been easier to contact members of Congress. All you have to do is click on or and type in your zip code, and you’re automatically directed to your representative. A window automatically pops up where you can type a message to that representative.  It takes less than two minutes, on average.  Well, we now need to let our elected representatives know how we feel about the bad trade laws, bad tax laws, and over burdensome regulations on manufacturers. It’s time to shed apathy, become involved, and vote.

If people whose lives are affected by manufacturing would contact their legislators and tell them they want trade reform and tax reform and would follow up to watch to see how they voted, the results would be amazingly effective.

We cannot afford to export our wealth and be able to remain a first-world country. We cannot lose our manufacturing base and be able to remain a “superpower.” In fact, we may not be able to maintain our freedom as a country because it takes considerable wealth to protect our freedom. You can play a role as an individual in saving our country ? the company you save or the job you save by your actions may be your own.

How Can We Attract Youth to Manufacturing Careers?

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

If we want to attract today’s youth to manufacturing careers, we need to change their perceptions about what the manufacturing industry is like and show them what great career opportunities exist in the industry.  If more people would watch TV programs such as “How it’s Made” and “Made in America,” they would soon realize that manufacturing has changed for the better – it’s cleaner and high tech compared to what it was a generation or two ago.

In a blog article, Derek Singleton, ERP Analyst for Software Advice, wrote, “This means reacquainting youth with the process of designing and building products from an early age – and then providing the creative freedom to build those things on their terms.”  He shared two examples from industry and suggested a third:

  1. Manufacturing summer camps – A recent New York Times article highlighted an innovative summer camp, called Gadget Camp, where teenagers learn how to build things from concept to creation. Attendees are required to design a product through computer-aided design (CAD) technology and oversee the design to completion.
  2. Gamification of manufacturing – Gamification is a hot topic in many aspects of business at the moment – one driven by the idea that adding gaming elements to non-gaming activities encourages action and participation. It’s a movement that seeks to capitalize on our youth’s obsession with video games as well as our competitive nature. According to Diana Miller and Simon Jacobson’s recent Gartner First Thing Monday Morning newsletter, Invensys has been using 3D gaming technology to teach new hires how to operate oil refinery equipment for the past few years. In the same vein, Siemens recently released Plantville, a program designed to teach manufacturing processes and technologies to young people and new hires.
  3. Restore shop classes to our high schools – The elimination of these courses from our school systems has inevitably had a negative impact on the way we view making a living with our hands. We can all learn from building something with our hands because it teaches us a different way to think. And more importantly, hands-on learning through shop classes helps young people move an idea from concept to creation – which is useful regardless of one’s future occupation.  (quoted with permission)

The good news is that more than one non-profit organization has recognized the need to introduce the opportunities of engineering and manufacturing careers to middle school age youth because by high school, students may already be on a different career track.  The benefits of summer camps for middle school youth is why the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International (FMA) sponsored the Gadget Camp mentioned above.  FMA sponsors the Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation (NBT) whose mission is to nurture the tinkering spirit.

NBT and the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) have partnered together to launch a unique summer camp program that combines elements of manufacturing and entrepreneurship—how things are made and how businesses develop. The summer camp will eventually develop into a national program with as many as 300 locations across the United States.

FMA also offers grants for manufacturing summer camps at numerous locations across the country.  Each camp is aimed at changing the image of manufacturing for youths. Through partnerships with nonprofit organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, FMA provides guidelines on the basic structure of how a camp should be conducted.  The organizations then use their community resources to develop the camps based on local manufacturing needs.

The camps provide a positive hands-on experience so young people will consider manufacturing as a career option. They target youths at the critical level of early secondary education, exposing them to math, science and engineering principles, and giving them opportunities to see the technology being used in industry and the high level of skills that will be required from the workforce.

Campers design and build a product experiencing the start to finish satisfaction of creating something they can show off with pride. Throughout the process, they learn how to do CAD design and operate various kinds of manufacturing machinery under the close supervision of expert manufacturing trainers.

They also tour local manufacturing facilities learning what kinds of jobs exist, what skills and training are required, and how those businesses developed. They have the opportunity to hear directly from local manufacturing company owners how they started their businesses, applying basic entrepreneurship principles to understand how a single product idea becomes a business.

Another non-profit organization with similar goals is Project Lead The Way® (PLTW).  The list of PLTW sponsors includes such companies as:  BAE Systems, Biogen Idec, Boeing, Caterpillar, Chevron, General Atomics, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Qualcomm, Solar Turbines.  Non-profit sponsors include the Girard Foundation, the McCarthy Foundation, and TechAmerica (formerly AeA).

PLTW has been working since 1997 to promote pre-engineering courses for middle and high school students. PLTW forms partnerships with public schools, higher education institutions, and the private sector to increase the quantity and quality of engineers and engineering technologists graduating from our educational system.  The PLTW curriculum was first introduced to 12 New York State high schools in the 1997-98 school years. A year later, PLTW field-tested its four unit Middle School Program in three middle schools. Today, the programs are offered in over 1,300 schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation is one of the major funders of Project Lead the Way® and sponsors a  week long day camp for 6th – 8th graders, called Gateway Academy, which is a project based, hands-on curriculum designed by PLTW to introduce middle school students to the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering and math.  Campers work together in a fun, exciting environment using leading-edge technologies to sample such disciplines as robotics, aeronautics and eco-design.  They brainstorm ideas, solve problems and build bridges, race cars and other working models. Participation in a Gateway Academy prepares students for the middle school Gateway to Technology pre-engineering curriculum.  The PLTW Middle School program is called Gateway To Technology, consisting of nine-week, stand-alone units, which can be implemented in grades six through eight, as determined by each school. The curriculum exposes students to a broad overview of the field of technology.  The units are:

  • Design and Modeling
  • The Magic of Electrons
  • The Science of Technology
  • Automation and Robotics
  • Flight and Space

SME also sponsors the ”Manufacturing is Cool” award winning, interactive website, which challenges and engages students in basic engineering and science principles and provides interesting and useful educational resources for teachers.  This fun and information rich website was recently “re-engineered” (updated) and marketed around the country.  SME has received positive feedback from teachers, parents, and students about its usefulness.  This website is a good start towards fulfilling the “Gamification of manufacturing” mentioned by Mr. Singleton.

There is also good news with regard to Mr. Singleton’s suggestion of restoring shop classes to schools.  States are starting to add shop classes back into the curriculum.  During his terms as California’s governor from 2003-2010, Arnold Schwarzenegger identified workforce skills, referred to as Career Technical Education (CTE), as a priority for California.  The passage of the education bond in 2006 provided $500 million for CTE initially, and subsequent budgets have continued to fund the program.  The State plan was approved by the California State Board of Education on March 12, 2008 and approved by the U.S. Department of Education on July 1, 2008.  The CTE is delivered primarily through K-12/adult education programs and community college programs.  The Career Technical Education includes the following:

K-12/Adult Programs:

  • Elementary school awareness and middle school introductory CTE programs
  • High school CTE, offered through 1,165 high schools in single courses, in course sequences or through over 300 integrated “learning communities”
  • ROCPs offering career pathways and programs through 74 ROCPs
  • Adult education offered through 361 adult schools and over 1,000 sites
  • Apprenticeship offered through over 200 apprenticeship program and adult schools

Community College

  • Occupational programs offered at all 109 colleges, leading to certificates, associate degrees, and transfer to four-year universities
  • Noncredit instruction for short-term CTE programs offered by 58 colleges
  • Apprenticeship offering over 160 apprenticeship programs at 39 colleges
  • Middle College High Schools (13) and Early College High Schools (19)
  • Tech Prep programs delivered through 80 Tech Prep “consortia,” comprising 109 colleges and their feeder high schools
  • Economic and Workforce Development Program activities implemented through 115 “regional delivery centers” and 10 initiatives in emerging industries
  • Contract education provided to organizations for their employees

This is a good start, but we have a long way to go if we want to have enough skilled workers to replace the “baby boomers” as they retire over the next 20 years.  Perhaps when more young people have exposure to the various career opportunities in manufacturing and realize that manufacturing careers pay 25-50 percent higher than non-manufacturing jobs, they will choose to be part of modern manufacturing.

What’s Being Done to Address the Lack of Skilled Workers?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

For the past 15 years, manufacturing companies have been focused on training existing employees in the tools and methodologies of lean manufacturing and Six Sigma in order to improve efficiency, productivity, quality, and customer service to be more competitive in the global economy. However, this training doesn’t address the lack of workers trained in the specific skills needed for today’s advanced and higher tech manufacturing.

Mark Tomlinson, CEO of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, sees the skilled worker shortage as an iceberg looming on an uneasy sea.  “We’re just approaching it; we haven’t hit it yet but we know it’s there,” he says. “People are starting to see it. They just don’t know how to deal with it…Now there is an increased need to fill manufacturing jobs associated with aerospace, energy, medical device manufacturing and aspects of transportation,” Tomlinson says.

At the imX event in Las Vegas that I attended September 12-14, 2011, I interviewed Experience Partner companies that are very involved in workforce development and training.  Mark Logan, V. P. Business Development & Marketing, Mag IAS, LLC said that MAG has a very comprehensive training program.  MAG America restarted its apprenticeship program in 2005 in partnership with local community colleges. Students in the program work full-time at MAG while taking college classes, working toward an associate’s degree. MAG invests approximately $200,000, including tuition, salary and benefits, for each apprentice earning a degree. This program gained national attention in an NBC Nightly News report “America at the Crossroads.”

Other internal programs include Future Leaders and the Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP), which are designed to fill the pipeline at the company’s management and executive levels.  Future Leaders participate in a one-year program combining classroom training with developmental assignments and mentoring from senior managers.  Accelerated Leadership candidates are employees who have the potential to assume executive-level positions within MAG, and the program provides a series of high-impact job assignments coupled with advanced educational opportunities.  The company also has co-operative education programs with a number of well-known regional and national engineering schools.  MAG IAS joins manufacturing leaders Boeing, Caterpillar, United Technologies and others as the newest partner in MIT’s prestigious Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) dual-degree graduate program that equips students with master’s degrees in engineering and management.

Another Experience Partner, Sandvik Coromant, provides training for their employees in collaboration with technical schools and colleges in addition to performing internal training utilizing curriculum they have developed, according to Robert Page, Productivity Center and Training Manager.  They also provide training for their customers at Smart events in metal cutting technology ranging from the basics of terms and definitions to specialized metal cutting of “hard” parts in super alloys.

Another imX Experience Partner was Fanuc FA America, one of the world’s leading factory automation companies.  Fanuc has developed simulator software, which is ideal for training.  Mark Brownhill, Program Manager, Machine Tool Distributor/Education, said, “We offer regular training programs for end-users as well as machine tool builders, agents or distributors. The training combines practical lectures with hands-on lab exercises to ensure that you get the value-added skills needed.  Our NCGuide simulates the CNC operator environment featuring, by selection, ISO programming or Fanuc Job Shop Programming Software while our NCGuidePro provides development tools as used by machine builders and OEMs.  Both these products run on standard PC equipment with no need for additional hardware.”  Fanuc also has two training centers, one near Chicago and one that just opened in Cypress, California.

Since its founding in 1932, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) has provided lifelong-learning programs, certification and skills assessment, technical resources, publications and industry expertise through its members.  SME has several certification programs in specialized fields that are used by both industry and academia to develop today’s and tomorrow’s workforce, such as Certified Manufacturing Technologist, Certified Manufacturing Engineer, Lean Certification, and Green Manufacturing Specialist.

In 2010, SME acquired Tooling University LLC (Tooling U) based in Cleveland, Ohio. Tooling U provides online training to more than 1,200 manufacturing companies and 400 educational institutions.  With more than 400 unique titles, Tooling U offers a full range of content to train machine operators, welders, assemblers, inspectors, and maintenance professionals. Tooling U online classes help to round out SME’s current offering of instructor led training, certifications, webinars, books and videos.

A free Workforce 2021 Readiness Assessment was introduced at the Tooling U booth at the imX event.  This customized and targeted workforce assessment program gives manufacturers the opportunity to assess their own capabilities in the face of challenges they will need to solve before they are confronted with the severe skilled workforce shortages predicted by 2021.  The first component of the assessment requires companies to answer questions about how they are preparing to meet the needs of the 2021 workforce.  Tooling U and SME professional development experts were available to explain solutions for readiness deficiencies identified in the assessments.

After the imX event, I interviewed two of Tooling U’s clients.  One client is Midmark Corporation, which brings efficient patient care to millions of people each day in the human and animal healthcare industries around the world. Midmark is committed to providing innovative products and services for the medical, dental and veterinary healthcare equipment industry. Headquartered in Versailles, Ohio, Midmark Corporation maintains four subsidiaries in the United States and has over 1,100 employees worldwide.

Casey Webster, Human Resources Manager, said, “We are experiencing a shortage of skilled machinists.  So far this year, Midmark has hired 7 machinists from the outside.  Finding this talent was a major struggle.  We tried several different recruiting tactics such as advertising in the newspaper, online, offering referral bonuses, radio ads, and professional recruiting services.”  She said, “We chose Tooling U because it was recommended to us by Edison Community College.  After doing some research and course trials, we decided to partner with Tooling U.  The kind of training courses we are utilizing includes 45 online modules and five labs.  It was important that we implement a program that allowed teammates to confirm their learned knowledge.  Once a teammate completes a set of online modules, he attends an eight-hour, hands-on lab at Edison Community College.  Classes range from mathematics, blueprint reading, cutting, lathe, mill, turning, and CNC.   The Tooling U training program has benefited our company by:

1.      Providing development opportunities to current teammates wanting to become machinists

2.      Reducing training time

3.      Verification program that a teammate has the skills to be successful in a machining role

Kellogg Community College, located in Battle Creek, MI, is the other client I interviewed.  Chris Walden, Interim Director, Workforce Services, said, “Manufacturers are coming to us as part of the ‘Michigan Works’ program.  We purchased full-year subscriptions to ToolingU courses in machining and welding because they are the perfect supplement for lab and class work.  The ToolingU courses are a cost-efficient and beneficial tool and have saved taxpayers thousands of dollars by our not having to develop our own curriculum.  The courses are translatable to both certificate programs and associate degrees.”  He added that the current president of the college, Dr. Dennis Bona, started out as a welder in private industry, and then became a part-time welding instructor before going on to higher education so he is very supportive of workforce training programs.

Another trade organization that also provides workforce training is The Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International (FMA).  The FMA champions the success of the metal processing, forming, and fabricating industry.  FMA educates the industry through the following programs:

FabCast – FMA’s webinar platform to deliver live, interactive technical education programs directly to shops on such topics as laser cutting, roll forming, metal stamping, etc.  Companies can train their whole team at once, even from multiple locations.   Companies can break up full days of instruction into modules and spread out over a period of time. (i.e. two hours four days a week, four hours once a week for a month).

Precision Sheet Metal Operator (PSMO) Certification – FMA’s PSMO Certification is the metal fabricating industry’s only comprehensive exam designed to assess a candidate’s knowledge of fundamental precision sheet metal operations.

On-site – Live training conducted at a company on their equipment. Rather than releasing a limited number of staff to attend an off-site training program, it can be more cost effective to bring the expert into a facility to work with all team members engaged in a particular process.  Training can be offered modularly and when needed (first, second, third shifts or weekends).

FMA’s e-Fab – online training that allows a company to get the training they need, when they need it.  E-Fab courses combine a full day’s worth of instruction by FMA’s leading subject matter experts with the flexibility of online delivery. The training is available 24/7, 365 days a year.

Educating current and future manufacturing workers is critical for the health and growth of the manufacturing industry, and the training programs provided by SME and FMA will aid in addressing the lack of skilled workers.

Why is there a lack of skilled workers with such high unemployment?

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

The national unemployment rate has ranged between 9 to 10 percent for nearly three years, representing 14-15 million workers and another 8-9 million workers that are considered underemployed.   The unemployment rate for the manufacturing industry jumped from 8.3 percent in December 2008 to a high of 13.0 percent in January 2010, but has ranged from a high of 9.9 percent in January 2011 to a low of 8.9 percent in August.

We have lost more than 5.5 million manufacturing jobs in the past decade, and over 57,000 manufacturing companies have gone out of business.  Aren’t there enough workers who lost jobs to fill the needs of companies that have survived and are now experiencing the recovery of the manufacturing industry?   With over 20 million many unemployed or underemployed workers, why is there a lack of skilled workers?

The main reasons for the lack of workers with the specific skills needed by today’s higher technology manufacturers are:

  • Unemployed workers mainly come from industries that have been decimated by offshoring
  • Fewer people choosing manufacturing as a career choice because of poor image
  • Attrition from retirement that is getting worse as baby boomers start to retire

First of all, a large percentage of the people who lost their jobs came out of industries that have been decimated by the offshoring of manufacturing – textiles, furniture, tires, sporting goods, and the garment industry just to name a few.  For example, the garment district in New York City has virtually disappeared, and now there is only one company left that makes gloves ? LaCrasia Gloves.

An added blow was the decimation of the automobile and auto parts industry during the Great Recession when North American auto production dropped from an average of 14-15 million vehicles per year down to below 10 million vehicles in 2008.

Most of these industries were dominated by large manufacturers employing hundreds to thousands of workers in plants located in the northeast, Midwest, and south.  They either worked on assembly lines or utilized specific skills suited to their industries.  In some cases, a textile plant, furniture plant, or automotive plant was the only large employer in the town.  When the plant closed, workers either had to take whatever other job they could find or relocate to another area.  If they were over the age of 55, they were fortunate to find a job at all.  In most cases, these workers didn’t have the specific skills needed in high-tech manufacturing industries.

When the manufacturing industry seems to be in a nationwide downward spiral, workers don’t even know where to relocate to find other types of manufacturing jobs.  And, if their spouse still has a good job, there is no incentive to move to where there might be an opportunity for another manufacturing job.  For example, I’m sure that only residents in the region are aware that German industrial corporation AG Siemens has a new plant in Charlotte, North Carolina and is hiring nearly 900 workers.

Another reality is that American workers in the regions of highest unemployment don’t have backgrounds in the manufacturing industry.  In fact, of the top ten cities of highest unemployment, eight are located in the mostly agricultural regions of California:  El Centro, Merced, Yuba City, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, Visalia-Porterville, and Hanford-Corcoran.  It would be an education and logistics challenge of tremendous proportions to retrain these workers for jobs in the manufacturing industry.

Second, manufacturing’s tarnished image has led young people entering the workforce to choose other career paths.  In an article titled, “What the shortage in skilled manufacturing workers means to a hungry industry” of the e-newsletter Smart Business, Kika Young, human resources director at Forest City Gear Co. Inc. of Rockford, IL, said “Most people in Gen Y out of high school don’t think of manufacturing as a career or as a good option.  They don’t think of it as glamorous; they think of it as dark and dingy and dirty and aren’t interested in going into that.”

“ Emily Stover DeRocco, president of The Manufacturing Institute of Washington, D.C., an organization dedicated to improving and expanding manufacturing in America, said, “It’s absolutely true that the image and the definition of manufacturing in this country has not kept up with the industry.”  She added, “Companies need to invest more in employee training and make workforce skills a top strategic priority.  Our education system must also do a better job aligning education and training to the needs of employers and job-seekers. In the face of a global recession and intense international competition, American manufacturers must differentiate themselves through innovation and a highly skilled workforce.”

Third, the attrition of skilled workers through retirement, death, and disability year after year is compounding the problem.  Harry Moser, retired president of GF AgieCharmilles and founder of the Reshoring Initiative, estimates that “about 8 percent of the manufacturing workforce is lost each year due to retirement, promotion, career changes, disability, and mortality.”  In the machining industry, this means a loss of “about 20,000 to 25,000 skilled machinists per year…In contrast, only about 8,000 per year receive sufficient machining training in high school, community college and apprentice programs to be considered good recruits.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics estimate that 2.8 million, nearly a quarter of all U.S. manufacturing workers, are 55 or older.  While manufacturing has led the United States out of the recession, the improvement has been a mixed blessing because as more skilled workers are needed, the supply is limited because baby boomers are retiring or getting close to retirement.  What makes the situation worse is that there aren’t enough new ones to replace them because the subsequent generations were smaller and fewer chose manufacturing as a career.

The convergence of all of these factors has resulted in an insufficient number of workers trained for advanced manufacturing jobs.   It’s more of a skills gap in the specific skills needed by today’s manufacturers than a shortage of skilled workers.  In the past 15 years, the manufacturing industry has evolved from needing low-skilled production-type assembly workers to being highly technology-infused as it follows lean principles.

According to the 2010 Manpower Talent Shortage Survey, 14% of employers In the U.S. reported having difficulty filling key positions within their organization, down from 19% in 2009.  Among the most difficult jobs to fill in North America are those of the skilled manual trades, with electricians, carpenters, plumbers and welders among the most in-demand employees.  Jonas Prising, Manpower president of the Americas said, “The issue is not a lack of candidates, but rather a talent mismatch.  There are not enough sufficiently skilled people in the right places at the right times.  Compounding the issue is the fact that employers are seeking ever more specific skill sets, or a rare combination of skill sets, and are less willing to engage in anticipatory hiring.  This paradox adds up to a very challenging and frustrating situation at a time when people need work and employers need talent.”

In September 2011, a survey sponsored by Advanced Technology Services, Inc. (ATS) and conducted by The Nielsen Company, was released that corroborates this skilled worker shortage.  ATS is a recognized leader in outsourced production equipment maintenance, helping companies like Caterpillar, Eaton, BorgWarner and Honeywell run their factories better through equipment maintenance and related services.  The top findings of the online survey of 100 VP-level and C-level executives completed in August were:

  • 55% of largest U.S. manufacturers polled—those with $1 billion or more revenue—will be hardest hit by skill shortage costing each $100 million or more over the next 5 years.
  • 45% of the companies surveyed are encouraging their older workers to stay on the job.
  • 50% of respondents said they currently have 11 or more open positions for skilled workers, with 31% having over 20 open slots.

“This is an essential time to be in manufacturing considering other sectors are seeing hiring slow down.  Many young people overlook the opportunity and high wages that careers in manufacturing afford,” said Jeff Owens, President of Advanced Technology Services. “As you can see form the rebound and the shortage of skills that manufacturing is experiencing, opportunities for profession growth and excellent wages are plentiful for people with the technical skills required.”

The need for skilled labor in the manufacturing industry was among the leading topics of discussion at the imX event in Las Vegas on September 12-14, 2011.  Jeanine Kunz, director of professional development for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), said “If companies don’t address this shortage of qualified labor now, hundreds of thousands of jobs will go unfilled by 2021, jeopardizing our workers, our companies and our nation’s future.”

The question of what is being done to address the lack of skilled workers will be considered in next week’s article.