Skilled Workers will Power the Manufacturing Renaissance

February 18, 2014

In a recent article on Manufacturing.net, Philip Odette, President of Global Supply Chain Solutions, pointed out something that many of us have been discussing in recent years. Namely, the U.S. manufacturing sector is poised to benefit from global shifts in costs, processes and consumer purchasing habits; together, these drivers may revitalize domestic manufacturing and enhance businesses and industries.

The only thing missing, Odette says, is sufficient numbers of skilled workers needed to maintain the momentum.

With the average U.S. manufacturing worker in their late 40s or early 50s, the next 10-15 years will see large numbers of retirements in this sector. A number of states and universities have developed industry- and company-specific training programs to address this pressing issue, but even those leave looming gaps.

The National Association of Manufacturers recently selected GE Appliances President and CEO Chip Blankenship to head a team that will try to develop solutions that can be applied to multiple sectors and states.

The ideas generated thus far are outgrowths of existing plans, including: develop training programs with schools and colleges; encourage students to earn engineering and technology degrees; and create incentives for existing workers to retrain for positions.

Among other avenues for creativity, Blankenship believes this new army of manufacturers could make the U.S. a hub of innovation for developing and building the robots that hold so much promise for the future of manufacturing. He feels that the next generation could eventually become “the saviors of our nation’s economy.”

The current administration has pledged various incentives to increase the availability of manufacturing education programs and U.S. jobs. These include a $1 billion plan to develop a national network of manufacturing innovation, with multiple research pilots already off the ground. These manufacturing centers—there are plans to create between 15 and 45 of them—will focus on new technologies for different industries.

“It’s easy to rely solely on 3D-printing to change thoughts about the work,” Odette says, but “…manufacturing must also change the image of its workers.”

Fortunately, this story is an easy one to tell. Manufacturers have known for quite some time that by and large, our sector offers better jobs than many others. The highest paid new college graduates are chemical manufacturing engineers, and the average manufacturing worker makes nearly $17,000 more per year than the average worker across all industries.
These jobs, however, require talent as much as they do hands to do the work.

“We all know manufacturing isn’t menial,” Odette adds. “It’s time to show that to the rest of the country.”