Industry Voices: Dave Tilstone

Dave Tilstone is president of the 1,400-member National Tooling & Machining Association (NTMA), the national association representing the precision custom manufacturing industry. He offers his views on the state of manufacturing and its future in 2013.


With some of the federal issues resolved for the moment, how would you evaluate the growth potential for the manufacturing sector?

The growth potential of the manufacturing sector is strong overall. Our members are reporting steady growth despite the uncertainties and challenges created by the lawmakers in DC.  However, this question remains difficult to answer because, while the fiscal cliff deal struck on January 2 extended several important tax credits and deductions used by manufacturers, the deal left many issues unresolved. As a result, the political fighting in Washington continues.

How much of that growth is determined in the U.S., and how much is a matter of global issues?

We live in a global economy and our members compete every day in the global market. The health of global manufacturing can best be described as fragile. A number of our members export and/or maintain facilities abroad in addition to operations here in the U.S.

While the continuing fiscal crisis in the Eurozone has negatively impacted our members with operations in Europe as well as those who sell to the European market, the dynamics of the Eurozone do not affect the broader majority of our member companies.

We have seen a slight slowdown in Chinese manufacturing and an increase in U.S. companies moving manufacturing back to the U.S. from China. Our members can and do compete with Chinese and other manufacturers around the world every day. We continue to be concerned about Chinese currency manipulation, counterfeiting issues, and other unfair practices by the Chinese government that impact the ability of our member companies to compete globally.

What factors outside of government will continue to affect manufacturing in 2013?

The shortage of skilled workers continues to impact our members and the manufacturing sector as a whole. Manufacturers have tens of thousands of job openings for skilled workers that remain unfilled.

In December, the National Tooling and Machining Association and Precision Metalforming Association conducted a survey of 164 metalworking manufacturing companies and found that 67% of those businesses had current job openings and 20% had at least six vacancies. More than 90% of the companies that had job openings said they were experiencing "severe or moderate" challenges in finding workers. Thousands more manufacturing jobs will become available in the coming years as aging manufacturing workers retire.

The available manufacturing jobs often require advanced engineering and technology skills which young Americans are not acquiring. The jobs remain open because an insufficient number of young people today choose to pursue careers in manufacturing.

This drop-off in interest in manufacturing careers can be attributed to a variety of factors including an educational system that has deemphasized vocational training and discouraged students from pursuing manufacturing careers, misperceptions among young workers about the state of modern manufacturing, and our own industry’s need to continue to expand training programs and community college partnerships.

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