The jobs-workforce puzzle is not unsolvable

The jobs-workforce puzzle is not unsolvable
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According to a new jobs report released Friday morning, manufacturers in America added 37,000 jobs last month. It’s yet another sign that the manufacturing sector is growing and creating jobs, thanks to boosts from federal tax and regulatory reform, but it’s also a reminder that manufacturing is facing an industry crisis. 

The latest National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey showed a record-breaking 95 percent of manufacturers expressing optimism about the future and reporting an all-time high for the expected rate of manufacturing job growth.

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But the very same survey also found 77 percent of manufacturers expressing serious concerns about their ability to find enough skilled workers to fill all those open jobs. While this isn’t a new issue — manufacturers have cited it as a major concern for a long time — today it has reached crisis levels, and recent soaring job growth is only compounding the challenge.

 

There are now more than 441,000 open jobs in manufacturing. By 2025, it’s projected that manufacturers will need to fill more than 3 million. Manufacturers in America might as well just have a permanent sign on their doors: “Creators Wanted.”

Why? There are a variety of reasons — sometimes people simply do not know that these jobs exist; sometimes there are just not enough qualified applicants to fill them. Most often, though, people have the wrong idea about what a career in modern manufacturing looks like. This isn’t the manufacturing industry your grandparents might remember. 

Manufacturing jobs are increasingly high-tech, 21st-century, rewarding, well-paying — and often don’t even require a four-year degree.

Combatting this perception challenge and the associated workforce crisis is something that the organization I lead —the NAM’s Manufacturing Institute, which is dedicated to furthering manufacturing competitiveness — is laser-focused on addressing.

The institute is taking this head-on through a three-part strategy of attract, train and retain that lies at the heart of almost everything we do. You see that in NAM and Manufacturing Institute programs like: 

  • MFG Day (to get children and parents to see firsthand at manufacturing sites the real story of the industry); 
  • Creators Wanted (to enhance perceptions about modern manufacturing careers); 
  • Heroes MAKE America (to train and connect returning soldiers to future manufacturing careers); and 
  • STEP Ahead (to develop and expand the number of women in manufacturing), among many others.

I was proud to join President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE, Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpHard choices in training Americans for AI workplace of future Ex-Trump, progressive strategists battle over charges of anti-Semitism surrounding Eric Trump Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events MORE and key workforce leaders at the White House in July as the president announced a new — and necessary — national workforce strategy that, in line with manufacturers’ priorities, is focused on apprenticeships and training to prepare more workers for the technology-intensive jobs of the future.

The White House’s priorities are in the right place and complement the many workforce initiatives already underway at The Manufacturing Institute and at manufacturers and allied organizations across the country. Similarly, the president’s “Pledge to America's Workers” is a welcome campaign to spur more training commitments across America. 

So, while Friday morning’s jobs report might signal an exacerbation of the workforce crisis in the short term, there is reason to be optimistic that progress is achievable.

President Trump is putting the force of the White House and his powerful platform to work to turn the tide — and attract and up-skill more Americans for the modern manufacturing jobs of today and tomorrow.

It’s now up to us — in the industry, nonprofit sectors, education and government to seize this moment and redouble our commitment to initiatives and many private-sector partnerships that will build the 21st-century modern manufacturing workforce.

Growing the modern manufacturing workforce is clearly an urgent challenge for all manufacturers. But it’s also the right thing to do.

Manufacturing jobs are about more than just a paycheck — though they do pay more on average than other industries. They provide the satisfaction of having created something that matters, and they contribute to making our country stronger and prosperous for everyone in what is today a confident and restored industry.

Carolyn Lee is the executive director of the National Association of Manufacturers' Manufacturing Institute.