A Wake Up Call

Manufacturers can’t find qualified employees.

To those of us in this field, this mantra is beginning to sound like a broken record, but to many others it is still sounding untrue.  Many continue to believe that U.S. manufacturing is dying, that there are no good jobs and that the ones left offer only a dirty and monotonous career.

One only needs to read the recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Help Wanted on Factory Floor,” by James Hagerty to learn that the lack of qualified workers for the advanced manufacturing and engineering field has reached a crisis.

In order to compete globally and have a sound economy, a nation must make things; this has always been the backbone of our country and without intelligent, technically savvy workers, our standard of living will falter.

The article correctly points to three trends that are contributing to the dearth of qualified employees.

  • First, manufacturers are starting to hire again after almost 10 years;
  • Second, despite the recent delay in retirements, the baby boomers are beginning to retire in massive numbers now and into the near future; and
  • Third,  “… the U.S. education system isn’t turning out enough people with the math and science skills needed to operate and repair sophisticated computer-controlled factory equipment, jobs that often pay $50,000 to $80,000 a year, plus benefits. Manufacturers say parents and guidance counselors discourage bright kids from even considering careers in manufacturing.”

I find this third trend the most troubling, but it is the only one of the three over which we actually have some control.

According to the National Science Foundation, about 5% of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. are in engineering, compared with an average of about 20% in Asia. According to the WSJ article, “In the most recent comparison of math and science test scores of 15-year-old students by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, American students trailed far behind those from China, Japan, South Korea, Canada and Germany.”

Everyone should view these statistics not only as a wake-up call, but as appalling.

While many manufacturers, big and small, across the country are working with their local career technical schools, institutions of higher education, returning veterans groups and even the prison system to sponsor internships, offer apprenticeships and in addition provide tuition reimbursement, our country will never be able maintain or improve its competitive advantage until our education system, both public and private responds en mass to the needs of the industry.

I know I now sound like a broken record, but hopefully my voice as well as others’ will begin to be heard.

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Posted by MAGNET Ohio in Workforce-Development

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