Summertime and the skills gap

Bolstered by good industry performance news, the manufacturing sector seeks new workers.


It's summertime and the sun is shining on the manufacturing sector. Good industry news came out at the end of June when new data showed that the U.S. manufacturing sector expanded stronger than expected. In fact, financial data from Markit showed that the rate of growth in the sector advanced to its highest level in more than four years.

And when manufacturing grows, the economy grows. Frequently cited data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates that manufacturing supports jobs in other sectors and is a strong multiplier in the U.S. economy. The data shows that for every $1.00 spent in manufacturing another $1.32 is added to the economy.

But there are still some hot-weather thunderstorms lurking. A recent article posted on the Monster blog describes a major challenge U.S. manufacturers are facing today: the difficulty in finding qualified workers. Monster, best known for their online platform for job seekers, publishes blog posts on employment trends in various sectors including manufacturing. "Contrary to popular belief," author Bret Silverberg wrote in the July 2, 2014 article, "the demands of the manufacturing industry today require significant technological expertise."

Drew Greenblatt, president of the Baltimore, Maryland-based Marlin Steel Wire Products, and a member of the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) shares his experience with the evolving manufacturing sector in the Monster piece. "People think of the production lines, and what people did in the 1920s," he is quoted as saying. "That's out of date. It's not measuring what's really happening in American manufacturing. Factories today are very sleek technologically."

Greenblatt's assessment of the modern manufacturing sector captures the problem American manufacturers are facing. The industry continues to modernize and develop technologically, but many of today's workers do not have the skills needed by today's industry, creating a gap. And this skills gap is leaving many high-tech and high-paying American jobs unfilled.

PMA and another leading manufacturing sector association, the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA), together known as "One Voice," have specific awareness of this issue. According to a recent survey, nearly 75% of One Voice members have job openings in manufacturing plants, and 80% report that they are having challenges recruiting qualified employees.

Now, Congress is taking on this issue. This week, One Voice praised the U.S. Senate for passing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), H.R. 803. WIOA covers dozens of job training programs and includes provisions which direct governors to create State Workforce Development Boards, a majority of whom must represent businesses in the state; prioritize the use of industry-recognized standards and credentials; eliminate outdated programs; provide accountability and data reporting requirements; and increase the ability to use on-the-job training (reimbursement rates up to 75%) and incumbent worker training (may use up to 20% of local funds), among others. WIOA now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote.

The growing U.S. manufacturing sector has a strong bolstering effect on the American economy. This summer, manufacturers are working to build on promising numbers and attract new workers to the sector.

- Edited by Brittany Merchut, Project Manager, CFE Media, bmerchut(at) 

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