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Help Wanted… Manufacturing Workers in the U.S.

manufacturing A recent study conducted by Deloitte Consulting found that nearly 83 percent of manufacturers are experiencing a serious shortage of skilled manufacturing workers. Almost three-quarters of the companies surveyed also reported that this lack of skilled workers has had an adverse effect on their productivity and ability to expand plants, resulting in a loss of new business opportunities.

In Massachusetts, it is projected that there will be 100,000 manufacturing jobs to be filled in the next ten years.  The current average age of manufacturing workers in Massachusetts is 55.

Similarly, the fewer number of skilled workers impacts less skilled workers, such as security personnel, forklift drivers, maintenance workers, janitorial staff, and those working in supply chains, who have less job opportunities as a result. Dana Saporta, an economist at Credit Suisse, predicts that this has caused the employment rate in the U.S. to rise by around 1.5 percent.

There is a strong possibility that the manufacturing sector will regain its former strength within the next 10 years, suggested by a couple factors. For one, there has been an increase in employment over recent months with another 22,000 jobs created in manufacturing, construction, and other goods-producing industries in July of this year. In addition, new manufacturing facilities are being built across the country.

Furthermore, it may be more economic for companies to increase their work in the U.S. due to other reasons such as low energy costs. The country has by far the lowest natural gas prices in the world, and they are predicted to remain low over the next few decades. This means it is much cheaper to build manufacturing facilities in the U.S. than in other places such as China or Europe. Additionally, although oil prices are reasonably low now, they are likely to rise in the near future, which would make transportation more expensive.

Twenty years ago the U.S./China pay rates were 60:1.  Today the rate is 6:1 and many U.S. manufacturers are pulling manufacturing from China back to the U.S. homeland. Many more would follow if they knew that there were skilled manufacturing workers available

To allow for a manufacturing increase in the U.S., it is necessary to encourage more people to train as skilled workers to make up for the ongoing depletion of the aging workforce. In response to this need, a growing number of apprenticeship programs are being offered by institutions and manufacturing companies. One such program is the tool-and-die apprenticeship, offered by Hudson Technologies at Ormond Beach. The program takes qualified but unskilled students and turns them into valuable workers.

Another project is currently being developed by the Western New York Economic Development Council. The intention is to create a workforce training center in Buffalo that will teach local workers the skills they need in more advanced factory work.

Taking a different stance, the Indiana Manufacturers Association and Ivy Tech Corporate College shall be creating the Indiana Manufacturers Skills Academy, run entirely online. The academy will consist of eLearning and eAssessment tools to help with technical training and assessment along with a feature to find employers online. This is an effort that hopes to solve the problem that almost one-third of workers in Indiana lack the basic skills needed to survive in today’s economy.

Massachusetts state government and private industry have taken the lead in creating innovative training programs at the community college level to increase skilled manufacturing workers. In Central Massachusetts, Quinsigamond Community College and Mount Wachusett Community College are demonstrating how education and industry can work together effectively to help increase the skill levels of today’s and tomorrow’s work forces in Massachusetts.  Their emphasis is on STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics—both at the college and pre-collegiate levels.

Private manufacturers, state governments, and profit and not-for profit colleges can increase the number of qualified manufacturing workers by offering career programs that prepare graduates to fill this unprecedented shortage of trained workers.

Manufacturing in the U.S. looks to be on the increase, and growth in these sectors would solve the problem of unemployment for thousands of people as well as strengthening the economy as a whole. It is only through the combined forces of state governments, private and not-for profit educational institutions and manufacturing companies that manufacturing can become a viable career.

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