Mark Tomlinson is executive director and CEO of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
In the United States, more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled due to a shortage of skilled workers. Many are right here in Michigan. This skills gap is the single greatest obstacle preventing accelerated growth of an economic sector the President Barack Obama has described as the “blueprint” for our nation’s future. He noted skills training and workforce development as keys to continuing the industry’s momentum.
Surprising in his recent State of the Union speech was the implication that the solution to the manufacturing workforce crisis lies in the creation of more programs and more tools.
While we respect the president’s commitment to manufacturing, the industry and our nation do not have the time to wait for the government to create these programs.
Nor do we need to. They already exist.
As CEO of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the leading organization developing and executing solutions to this industry crisis, I can say without hesitation that the necessary tools already are available and operational. SME and corporate, educational, nonprofit and governmental partners have been developing and utilizing them for years.
While continued government support is necessary and appreciated, what manufacturers require most imminently is a stronger commitment from within our own ranks and the halls of academia to these tools and programs. These resources are abundant.
For example, the president’s own recently-expanded Skills for America’s Future program uses industry-created certifications and mentorships that U.S. manufacturers need to compete globally.
The Manufacturing Institute’s Manufacturing Skills Certification System — which SME and other key partner organizations validated — creates a framework enabling companies and individual practitioners to understand the needs of the future workforce. It aligns with the Department of Labor’s Workforce Development Pyramid.
The more than 400 technical courses offered online by Ohio-based Tooling U, an SME program, upgraded the skills of more than 100,000 workers. Those workers helped 1,200 American companies who otherwise would not have been able to compete.
The State of the Union address itself offers an example of how such collaboration pays off. The president highlighted the story of single mother Jackie Bray, who lost her job as a mechanic and earned new employment by redeveloping her skills through a partnership between Siemens and Central Piedmont Community College, which uses online training technology from Tooling U.
Millions of Americans face the same dilemma Jackie faced. They need new skills to secure employment in today’s advanced manufacturing facilities, but must tackle financial or other barriers to gain them. Likewise, the skills gap Siemens recognized was far from an isolated situation.
The framework already exists for industry and academic partnerships that enable companies and individuals to surmount these barriers. The manufacturing community agrees with Obama. Making things must be the core of our future economy.
How do we overcome the skills gap and generate more of the employment successes that can make this possible?
The answer is not to wait months or years for the government to create new programs.
The answer is for industry and academic leaders simply to work together, forming more partnerships that take advantage of resources that already exist.
These partnerships will close the skills gap, develop the workforce the manufacturing sector needs and help millions of Americans secure jobs. They will provide the human capital this nation needs to continue its recovery.