What’s needed to Make It In America? Public-private partnerships that cultivate a highly skilled workforce
It’s a common refrain we hear from every corner of our economy: too many open positions and not enough skilled workers to fill them.
It’s particularly pronounced in the one industry that is the foundation for our economy: manufacturing.
The pandemic erased 500,000 manufacturing jobs nearly overnight, accelerating a decades-long decline in our manufacturing workforce. Reliance on other countries for manufactured goods has harmed our economy, compromised our national security, and left us vulnerable in times of crises like the pandemic.
Today, however, the tide may be turning. We are now seeing a higher demand for products “Made in America,” and companies are bringing their manufacturing capabilities back to the States, a concept known as reshoring. But does our nation have the critical talent infrastructure to see this through? Recent public and private figures estimate as many as 2.1 million American manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by 2030 if we do not develop the workforce needed to fulfill our labor needs here at home.
This paradox of an American manufacturing renaissance set against a dire shortage of skilled workers is occurring at a pivotal moment, as emerging industries mature, more technologically advanced manufacturing processes are adopted, and as older workers begin to retire at an accelerated pace.
Policymakers now must confront the question of how to bridge the skills gap in a way that helps businesses grow here and advantages American workers and their families so they can access opportunities and attain real economic security.
For 12 years, one of us has led the Make It In America plan in Congress to reverse this trend by expanding education and skills training for American workers, investing in infrastructure, promoting entrepreneurship, and making our supply chains more resilient. All of these are ingredients for revitalizing our domestic manufacturing sector.
More than 20 bipartisan Make It In America bills have been signed into law over the last 10 years, helping to prepare our workforce and our businesses for success. The recently enacted CHIPS and Science Act enjoyed bipartisan support and will have a direct positive impact on the education and training of the highly skilled workforce we need to compete for 21st century manufacturing jobs.
As a result of the CHIPS Act and other Make It In America legislation enacted, American companies are announcing new plants for goods that will fuel tomorrow’s economy – such as batteries that will power electric vehicles, solar panels that will electrify our homes, and fiber-optics that will democratize access to the Internet everywhere. More, however, must still be achieved.
What’s needed now are public-private programs to train highly skilled machinists and technicians. Manufacturing is an increasingly sophisticated field, with new processes like additive manufacturing (more commonly known as “3D printing”) robotics, and automation radically redefining the way goods are produced and brought to market. The workers operating advanced machinery need the advanced training to match.
Across the country, thousands of two-year colleges offer degrees and hands-on training to prepare students for success in manufacturing fields. State, local, and federal funding of these institutions only goes so far, though. It’s time that we do more to leverage public-private partnerships to expand these programs and ensure their success.
Xometry, a technology company headquartered in Maryland, is providing scholarships to community and technical training institutions in six key manufacturing states and, last year, pledged eight scholarships to engineering students at Howard University, one of our nation’s premier historically Black colleges and universities.
That’s just a start, and Xometry is just one company.
Every institution that has a viable stake in the success of manufacturing — from large Fortune 500 organizations to entrepreneurs creating prototypes of tomorrow’s innovations — must step up to augment public financing for skills-training programs. The return on investment will be exponential, giving workers the tools they need to secure well-paying jobs with competitive benefits while also creating opportunities for others to follow suit.
Additionally, federal and state lawmakers must do more to build the digital and automated infrastructure that will enable American manufacturers to compete more effectively around the world. There are more than 500,000 manufacturers across the country, many of them small- and mid-sized machine shops deeply ingrained in their communities. Imagine the result if lawmakers developed innovative incentives that propel manufacturers of all sizes and in any location to invest in robotics, automation, and digital workflows that will bring down the overall cost of doing business. A high-tech operation attracts high-tech workers, who, in turn, encourage further innovation.
One of the biggest challenges to this effort, however, is not logistical but one of perception.
Too few Americans — lawmakers included — fully realize that today’s manufacturing is not the same as it was even a generation ago.
We must work to shift public perception away from manufacturing as an antiquated industry and toward what it truly is — a high-growth, high-tech sector delivering disproportionate economic contributions to its workers, to their families, to their communities, and to the rest of our economy.
Fixing this “perception gap” will give manufacturers a better chance of attracting the young talent so critical to our future success. So will encouraging and building the kind of public-private partnerships that help young and talented Americans find their way into rewarding manufacturing careers.
By working together, government, business, labor, and educational institutions can help more of our people Make It In America, secure our economic future and ultimately strengthen our national security.
Steny H. Hoyer is the House majority leader and Randy Altschuler is CEO of Xometry, Inc.
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