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Editors Note: Getting the U.S. Work Force Up to Snuff

There’s been much talk — and some evidence — of a U.S. manufacturing renaissance and bringing high-paying jobs back home, i.e., reshoring. However, this “skills gap” must be closed if manufacturers are to find the skilled workers they need.

Geraldine Gambale, Editor, Area Development Magazine (Directory 2014)
The Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) estimates that 85 percent of all new jobs will be skilled positions that require some post-secondary education. Among the best-paying jobs are those in manufacturing, which pay 17 percent more than non-manufacturing jobs, according to the AME.

Yet, ManpowerGroup notes that jobs in the skilled trades are the most difficult to fill. The group’s 2013 Talent Shortage Survey reveals 39 percent of all U.S. employers are having difficulty finding staff with the right skills, and nearly half (49 percent) of U.S. employers say these shortages are affecting their ability to serve customers.

There’s been much talk — and some evidence — of a U.S. manufacturing renaissance and bringing these high-paying jobs back home, i.e., reshoring. However, this “skills gap” must be closed if manufacturers are to find the skilled workers they need. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates the gap as representing 600,000 manufacturing jobs — that’s huge! The association proposes a system of nationally portable, industry-recognized skills certifications to help close the skills gap.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, recently told Area Development that Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEPs) are getting more involved with skills training at the community-college level. Not surprisingly, these types of programs had been absent for more than a decade.

This skills training is a good step, but there needs to be an even greater focus throughout the U.S. educational system on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). These skills are needed not just for manufacturing jobs, but for all jobs in the 21st century economy. If long-range educational plans aren’t put in place, the United States will fall further behind other nations. The U.S. already ranks only 16th globally in literacy, 21st in numerical proficiency, and 17th in problem-solving in technology-rich environments, as recently reported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). These lagging skills will have a profound effect on the U.S. economy and global competitiveness, as well as our standard of living.

In 2014, Area Development will examine these work force issues more closely, with input from manufacturers and other businesses, community representatives, location consultants, and others to determine how the skills shortage — real or perceived — affects a company’s location and expansion decisions. Stay tuned to find out what is being done by all of these stakeholders to fulfill labor force requirements and position the U.S. economy for growth in the years to come.
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