Economy & Economic Development  March 5, 2019

Skills-based training needed for manufacturers to fill open jobs

Over the next decade, there will be about 4.5 million manufacturing jobs to fill in the United States, according data from the National Association of Manufacturers. But unless something changes, more than half of those could go unfilled.

In an effort to head off that impending labor shortage, leaders in the manufacturing industry are calling for a new approach to workforce training that emphasizes the technical skills employers are looking for.

“It’s very obvious when we have 2.5 million jobs that could go unfilled, we need to start aligning our curriculum with the needs of the future,” National Association of Manufacturers president Jay Timmons said in February before he launched a national tour to highlight the industry’s need for qualified workers. The tour, which kicked off in Colorado, included stops at Ball Aerospace and Anheuser-Busch’s Fort Collins brewery.

A key part of aligning schools’ curriculum to the needs of manufacturers is understanding that manufacturing work has evolved — it’s not all assembly lines and low-skilled repetitive tasks.

“Cutting edge robotics, artificial intelligence, augmented reality — these are the types of jobs that are going to solve tomorrow’s challenges,” Timmons said. “People involved with the manufacturing world get to be on the front lines of those exciting innovations.”

This is especially true in places such as Northern Colorado and Boulder Valley, which are home to diverse manufacturing operations that make everything from satellites to cell phone accessories to cancer drugs.

Ensuring that the future manufacturing workforce is properly trained means reexamining what skills students are taught.

“I think it goes all the way to elementary school and secondary school. We are not focusing enough on the science, technology, engineering and math skills,” Timmons said.

Communicating the needs of their workforce to schools and training providers is one of the biggest challenges faced by manufacturing industry leaders, Timmons said. It’s a challenge the industry takes very seriously.

“Our manufacturers themselves are working directly with technical schools and community colleges,” he said. “That’s probably the most successful and most productive way to communicate those needs.”

Four-year colleges and universities are often a bit more hesitant to evolve their curriculum to better train students to meet the skills needs of the industry.

“It’s a tougher nut to crack,” Timmons said. “They can be very slow to change. But we are hopeful that we will be able to highlight this issue so the world of higher education understands what the needs are in the workforce of the future.”

The National Association of Manufacturers is working “to get public policy to shift toward very adaptive institutions so we can get that unfilled jobs number down to a much more manageable figure,” he said.

Despite industry efforts, the skills gap appears to be getting progressively wider as the labor shortage becomes more severe.

“We have about 450,000 unfilled jobs today in manufacturing compared to about 13 million filled jobs,” Timmons said. “That’s a pretty significant chunk of jobs that are going unfilled because we can’t find the folks with the right skills.”

This skills gap and labor shortage could have some very severe consequences if not addressed.

“We will not be able to compete with other countries around the world that are aligning their curriculum to the needs of the future,” Timmons said, citing China as example of a nation that’s “imposing on their educational system a lot of the skills that manufacturers need.”

Still, he said, it’s not time to panic.

“I’m optimistic, especially of young people,” Timmons said. “But also I’m optimistic that if those people who are underemployed or have taken a pause in the workforce see the opportunities in modern manufacturing first hand, we can be extraordinarily successful in closing the labor and skills gap.”

 

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Over the next decade, there will be about 4.5 million manufacturing jobs to fill in the United States, according data from the National Association of Manufacturers. But unless something changes, more than half of those could go unfilled.

In an effort to head off that impending labor shortage, leaders in the manufacturing industry are calling for a new approach to workforce training that emphasizes the technical skills employers are looking for.

“It’s very obvious when we have 2.5 million jobs that could go unfilled, we need to start aligning our curriculum with the needs…

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