...And the opportunities are wide open for working learners.  By joining the manufacturing workforce, working learners have a chance to be part of the most skilled talent pool in the world.  The US still develops the most advanced manufacturing tools, processes, products, and applications and combined, these are the global standards for innovation and discovery.  Remarkable, given the significant shortages of manufacturing talent.

Why should manufacturing employers hire and retain working learners?  Given the rapid innovation across products and supply chains, few large firms compete through vertical integration. Instead, most firms rely on integrated supply networks with smaller companies.  And there is enormous potential for cost sharing, particularly with regard to cultivating and maintaining talent.

Each of the following recommendations is a defined project with measureable results.  Taken one at a time or in concert, they are designed to move communities from uncertainty to sustainable economic growth – positioning job seekers to be well prepared for positions and to command respectable pay for meaningful work.  Once in play, these recommendations will leverage connections between small- and medium-sized firms and large companies to drive innovation, boost production for domestic consumption, and increase exports.  Economies of scale, cross training within firms and across industries, and even job sharing and benefit sharing among companies become possible.

Public messaging: convey why manufacturing matters  Manufacturing is vital to the U.S. economy. U.S. producers made a $1.8 trillion difference in the GDP last year, representing almost 12 percent of total economic output.  They paid higher wages than employers in other U.S. sectors, employed 11.5 million Americans, and supported almost 7 million jobs in other industries. 

 This multiplier effect, as Labor economists contend, is largely due to manufacturing supply chains, which are larger and longer than other sectors.  The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculates that for every dollar of value created in manufacturing, $1.40 is created in other sectors. 

Manufacturers account for roughly two-thirds of U.S. R&D expenditures and employ more engineers and scientists than any other private sector industry.  The sector’s goods make up over half of U.S. exports and drive more net wealth creation than any other part of the nation’s economy.  

Industrial geography is important.  The promise of manufacturing growth is really hinged on the constellation of large companies and small- and medium-sized enterprises.  The latter employ a major portion of the manufacturing workforce and constitute the largest portion of the manufacturing base. But their supply of materials, components, tools, parts, and knowledge transfer – all essential to the supply chain for larger assemblers and producers – is threatened by an inadequate source of skilled talent. This, in turn, puts at risk the entire geographic synergy of manufacturing and economic growth.  

…And that the stakes are high   While many American firms remain at the forefront of technology, that lead is narrowing; and further slippage in this sector could be treacherous.  Lacking adequate, if not superior supplies of human capital, and stuck in a sluggish recovery, American manufacturing firms have focused on their survival and their shareholders and have sought the most expedient way to address their talent shortages:  outsourcing or offshoring.   A closer look at the talent gap – and at the consequential 750,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs that the U.S. labor market has lost to overseas production – reveals a 28 percent decrease in the base of American talent capable of producing high-tech, high-value goods since 2000. 

…And that the manufacturing sector’s needs are immediate The dearth of skilled manufacturing workers threatens infrastructure and industrial competitiveness, both regionally and as a nation.  Consider just one field: welding.  Critical to the manufacturing sector, welding moves across scores of occupational cuts and a wide array of skill levels and pay grades.  Without skilled welders, New York cannot produce autos and auto parts, underwater rigs, appliances, advanced technologies, and the full range of more than half of all manufactured goods that require welding.  Space, new and alternative energy, and communications – all frontier industries – present even greater welding opportunities.  As the nation faces a 500,000-welder shortage, New York must bridge its own gap to maintain its existing manufacturing base and to capture promising long-term growth opportunities.  The same goes for the critical utilities sector – from waterworks to electricity – which stands to lose half of its workers over the next decade.  And conventional energy sector jobs – from power plant operators to transmission and pipeline workers – also are retiring workers at a much faster rate than they are being replaced. While premiums are often placed on job creation through highway construction, smart grids, and other new infrastructure projects, we must also prepare a workforce to staff the maintenance and repairs to what is already erected, and be mindful particularly of industries facing an onslaught of retirees.

Many of these at-risk positions are middle-skills:  nuclear electricians, hydraulic and electrical systems workers, and the rich ecosystem of people who make and run what we use everyday – from life-saving tubing hook ups in hospital rooms to the bridges we cross.  These are not jobs that can be offshored.  They must be filled right here, in the U.S.  

Employers: Dispel myths about manufacturing as being dumb and dirty work  Results from Deloitte and other firms conducting surveys depict strong biases against manufacturing jobs among adults who advise youth about career choices.  Yet skilled manufacturing workers are in short supply – and over half of U.S firms surveyed “anticipate the shortage to increase in the next three to five years.”  New York manufacturers are no exception. 

Industry itself must act as a powerful change agent in altering the public’s negative perception of manufacturing jobs.  The essential message to articulate:  manufacturing jobs are dynamic, skills-based, high-tech positions.  Across the manufacturing landscape, managers demand talented, flexible workers who can read plans, compute, analyze, problem solve, create, cross-train – and who can reap greater rewards through continuing to build skills and earning power.  

Businesses are their own best messengers, especially if they dispatch a team of successful, well-spoken employee representatives, both younger and more mature, to carry this message and spread the word about the most expedient and effective means to develop the skills necessary for a lucrative and rewarding career in a critically important industry sector.  Bosses should advertise and deploy this team – to schools, training centers, workforce development boards, local grassroots organizations, and other places that draw jobseekers – to convey the kinds of coursework, certifications, and just-in-time training that is available on the job, in the classroom, at experiential training centers, or online.  Those who invite the public onsite to showcase facilities, the work, the mentoring, and the prospect of working in manufacturing make the most powerful pitch.