Is Skill Decline Becoming a Growth Problem for US Manufacturing?

It is no secret that Manufacturing in the U.S is now in a positive growth cycle. A few factors which include a Chinese recession, policy easing from government regulatory agencies, and a somewhat pro-jobs focus from both political parties has given U.S manufacturing an edge…for now. According to many reports this growth can stall. Why? The big problem is a skill gap between available labor and the jobs needed to be filled. The problem is not a lack of work, but rather qualified workers. But what led us to this problem?

 The Recession

A few of the current problems can be blamed on the recession itself. Before the recession in 2007-08 manufacturers could afford to fund more programs, both in their local communities and internally that would train and place new workers into skilled jobs. A lot of this job training offered hands-on learning that were geared to the needs of the company. When the economy suffered, suddenly a lot of these programs became “non-essential” and were cut. Some economists even suggest that for the past 10 years companies had become complacent in their hiring. Basically, they became too accustomed to a candidate pool from which there was plenty to choose from. Now that the pickings are slimmer, they do not have the infrastructure to train these potential candidates properly.

 The Telecommunications and Computing Bubble

The birth of the internet created a lot of opportunities for tech savvy young men and women. But this had a somewhat negative effect on the labor pool needed for manufacturers. Particularly for numerical control programmers and automation engineers. For a student interested in tech, rather than be steered toward manufacturing technology, they we instead pushed towards web-based and communications pursuits. Which, while still a hot commodity, has somewhat leveled off in recent years. With this problem, older workers who were taught these skills are now retiring. Economists are reporting that one of the problems companies face are that Baby-Boomers are retiring faster than younger workers can replenish them.

 A Positive Outlook

While these facts can seem somewhat grim there are some indications that companies have taken notice and are doing something about it. In the last few years we have seen an increase in community education programs and student outreach from large manufacturers. In addition, workers who were once seeing a lot of their jobs shipped overseas are now motivated by growth in sectors which once were dominated by imports. This, along with lawmakers now focused on keeping jobs domestic, is creating more opportunities in manufacturing every day.

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