Manufacturing’s Renaissance Depends On Skilled Workers

Global shifts in costs, processes and consumer purchasing habits put the U.S. in a position to revitalize its manufacturing sector and enhance businesses and industry at home.

The only thing missing is enough skilled workers to maintain the momentum.

The average U.S. manufacturing worker is in their late 40s or early 50s, so many will be retiring in the next 10 to 15 years. While many states and universities have developed programs that train some workers in specific industries or for specific companies, there is no major program to point to that has solved the industry-wide issue.

The Task at Hand

Under the guidance of the National Association of Manufacturers, GE Appliances President and CEO Chip Blankenship has been selected to head a team that will try to address the problem in ways that can be applied to multiple sectors and states.

The ideas so far are outgrowths of existing plans:

  • Increase partnerships with government bodies;
  • Develop training programs with schools and colleges;
  • Encourage students to earn engineering and technology degrees;
  • Organize businesses to create training;
  • Create incentives for existing workers to retrain for positions.

One of the biggest focuses will be encouraging students to study technology that relates to manufacturing and engineers. The U.S. can become a hub of innovation for developing and building the robots that may operate the manufacturing lines of tomorrow.

Blankenship was right when he said future workers that invest their skills in domestic manufacturing “could be the saviors of our nation’s economy.”

Making Manufacturing Day Every Day

October 4 was National Manufacturing Day, where roughly 800 manufacturers across the U.S. allowed high school students, teachers and local government officials to observe plant operations. The goal is to provide students with an idea of career options and show teachers what skills are used in these positions.

Many of the tours and operations focused on advanced tools and techniques that drive today’s manufacturing process. Crane & Co. was able to attract national headlines by inviting Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to tour the roughly 250-year-old company’s operations alongside school officials.

Crane is working with Massachusetts community colleges and MIT to develop training courses around the precision manufacturing used by Crane and others in the area. Its eventual goal is to expand this program beyond the state’s borders.

Advancements have helped precision manufacturing thrive in a “quiet” renaissance, and Gov. Patrick gave a perfect rallying cry or the industry: “It's time to make that renaissance a whole lot less quiet.”

MIT and other universities already use free digital services to share their lesson plans. Apple offers iTunes University, a program manufacturers themselves can use.

Even something as simple as recording yourself demonstrating a process can boost the credibility of your company and increase its presence in the minds of students and teachers in your local area. Videos of new equipment or an impressive process don’t have to be reserved to sales pitches — they can be investments in attracting a new workforce.

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