Saturday, September 1, 2012

Attacking the Manufacturing Workforce Issue

May 2, 2012 12:12 PM

Across industries, manufacturers are struggling to build the workforce of tomorrow. That was one of the takeaways from “The Future Workforce” panel at the Manufacturing Leadership Summit on Wednesday.

Mike Packer of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics said the average age of the company’s employees is now in the late 50s. He estimates that the defense company will lose 6,000 to 8,000 workers annually in the coming years, two-thirds of them scientists and engineers.

Bill Cousineau, vice president of operations support at Kohler Company, said the company’s long-term challenge will be the revitalization of its engineering professionals, but that its acute problem in the next five to 10 years will be filling the ranks of the manufacturing skilled trades. Beyond that 10-year mark, the problembe comes “very acute,” Cousineau said.

Stephen Gold, president and CEO of Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI, cited a recent survey showing that among companies with 500 to 1000 employees, 60% consider workforce planning the most critical issue they face.

In short, the workforce issue is top-of-mind for all types and sizes of manufacturers. Here’s what they’re doing about it:

Lockheed engages students from kindergarten through high school in ways that expose them to manufacturing-related skills and draw out any natural affinity they may have toward careers inmanufacturing. Kohler works with community colleges to help set curricula that will help create manufacturing-ready graduates. Kohler also performs outreach to young students, a process that Cousineau calls “an extension of our brand.”

Amy Packer, council senior fellow at the Council on Competitiveness, suggested that manufacturers pushfor performance-based funding for their community colleges. The only way to motivate those schools to serve the workforce needs of the manufacturing community, she said, is to create an incentive structure that holds them accountable.

This isn’t something manufacturers can effect overnight, but it illuminates a path they can take to help address the workforce shortage, and it sounds like a perfect complement to their own efforts to extend their brand into the younger generation.

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