As a national site location consultant, I find that an increasing number of the office and industrial clients for whom I’m securing economic incentives are manufacturers. The Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers’ Index measures monthly manufacturing activity data collected from purchasing managers across 18 industries, including chemicals, primary metals, machinery, petroleum/coal products, computers and electronics, paper products, plastics and rubber products, and electrical equipment/appliances. The group’s latest data indicates that the strongest manufacturing industries are automotive, appliances, and computers/electronics. Although its February 2011 data indicated a slight decline, which they attributed to higher fuel and raw materials pricing, the overall analysis indicated increased production growth.
That being said, it seems that lately every time I pick up an industry publication, or read one online, the articles are on the “shortage of skilled manufacturing workers in the U.S.” In light of the number of manufacturing site search projects we’ve worked on over the past 24 months, I find this very disconcerting. According to The Washington Post, “The United States has lost nearly 4 million manufacturing jobs in the past 10 years.” Yet it appears the loss of skilled manufacturing workers has not resulted in a surplus.
The reason for the shortage appears to be two-fold: the anticipated impact of automation on manufacturing technologies, and our failure to motivate and train younger workers for the potential job opportunities. Factory workers are now faced with the need to operate, program, and maintain computerized equipment. Many of the laid-off workers likely do not have these skill sets, and employers are not seeing younger applicants with these aptitudes.
Manufacturers are in need of workers skilled in “CNC” or ‘computer numeric control’ operation, set-up, and programming. As indicated by the recent flurry of news stories, there is an urgency to increase awareness of opportunities in CNC/Machine Tool Technology and to provide manufacturing skills training. A quick scan of our own Dallas County Community College website finds a certification course tailored to meet the skills needed in the machining industry. Students learn the basics of CADD, how to set up and operate machinery such as mills and lathes, and CNC programming.
With much of our manufacturing workforce consisting of baby boomers who are nearing retirement, it is important that we put in place, or expand, programs to recruit and train younger workers. Training should begin in the high schools to provide those young people not destined for college with a trade.
A recent survey of manufacturers by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute found that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled. We need to tackle this need on all fronts—public and private—to take advantage of these job opportunities and avoid further loss of manufacturing jobs overseas.
Linda Burns is a national site consultant out of the Dallas area who specializes in incentive negotiations and economic development location strategies. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.