Skills Gap

Talent, Talent, Talent- by Jerry Jasinowski

The real estate professionals like to say that the three most important ingredients in the value of a home are location, location, location. If President-elect Trump is serious about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., he should focus on talent, talent, talent. Tax reform, trade enforcement and regulatory reform are all important ingredients of any serious manufacturing agenda, but talent is the critical missing link.
While everyone laments the ranks of the unemployed, many displaced from manufacturing, the fact remains that we have hundreds of thousands of excellent manufacturing jobs going begging for lack of applicants with the basic skills needed to handle those jobs.
This unfortunate situation reflects a breakdown in our educational system that simply is not preparing young people for work in the real world. "Senior manufacturing executives consistently report that the most important barrier to building or expanding their firms is a lack of adequately trained workers for production jobs in the modern factory," wrote my old friend Tom Duesterberg, former head of MAPI/The Manufacturing Institute. "In addition to basic mathematics and verbal skills, candidates are deficient in such 'employability' factors as communications, teamwork, time management, problem-solving and reliability. Hard skills such as specialized training in machining, operating computer-controlled machines, metalworking, and even welding, are not even taught in most schools."
A major obstacle is our culture which puts little value on the skills needed in manufacturing. A generation ago most public high schools devoted significant resources to vocational training, but that has gone by the wayside. They are striving to orient every student toward four-year college degrees. This is a fundamental mistake. Millions of our brightest young people are not drawn to academics. Many of them are mechanically minded and would fare well in programs designed to build upon that orientation.
The key to this yawning training gap is the traditional apprenticeship program which combines classroom instruction with hands on experience in the workplace. We have a few such programs in which public schools, community colleges and business work together to create career paths for promising young people - and even many who are not so young. But the number of apprentice programs fell by 40 percent between 2003 and 2013. And even with those remaining, manufacturing is getting short treatment. Of the total number of nearly 448,000 apprentices in our country, only 13,532 (3 percent) are in manufacturing related programs.
Our competitors in Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom are light years ahead of us in this vital area. We can and should emulate their example. Manufacturing is and remains the driving force of our economy - the seedbed of innovation - and we need to educate both the public and our political leaders to this reality. Were President Trump to assert a visionary approach to practical workplace training, especially in manufacturing, it would begin producing results in a short period of time - and it would fulfill the promises he made to those displaced blue collar workers who provided his margin of victory in the election.
Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements.. December 2016