Closing the skills gap is up to us

One Voice members are working to close the skills gap in the manufacturing sector this summer.

By NTMA & PMA August 7, 2014

It is now August in America. The dog days of summer are drawing to a close. Schoolchildren around the country are preparing to return to classrooms and TVs across the country are asking, “Are you ready for some football?” The air, in many places still heavy with heat and humidity, also holds the feeling of new beginnings and the promise of fresh starts.

And the U.S. manufacturing sector is enjoying the season.

Early manufacturing sector numbers this summer were positive. As we wrote in our last blog post here on Plant Engineering, the end of June brought good news when data showed that the U.S. manufacturing sector expanded stronger than expected. In fact, financial data from Markit during that month showed that the rate of growth in the sector advanced to its highest level in more than four years.

And the news has only improved. A few days ago, the Associated Press reported that U.S. manufacturing expanded for the 14th straight month in July.

So with manufacturing business expanding in the U.S., manufacturers are looking to hire. New research shows that two in three executives at surveyed small and midsize manufacturing and distribution companies in the U.S. plan to add jobs in the next year. The survey, conducted by McGladrey LLP and reported by Argus Leader, showed that some ninety percent of respondents expect solid growth in the next year.

But we know that, as manufacturers look to hire, they are consistently finding a lack of skilled workers to fill open jobs. Our own research shows that the majority of our members in the Precision Metalforming Association and the National Tooling and Machining Association both, have jobs available and are having challenges recruiting qualified employees.

NTMA Chairman Ted Toth explained the seriousness of the issue in an AP article over the weekend. He has four open jobs that pay from $20 to $32 an hour, he said in the article, but he hasn’t been able to locate qualified employees to fill them.

The skills gap has even turned manufacturing employers against each other in fierce competition for the limited number of skilled workers. The AP noted that Toth’s company even raised wages in an effort to fend off efforts by competitors to poach its employees.

But, at the end of the day, we know that filling the skills gap in the manufacturing sector is up to us.

One Voice members are currently working at every level from the federal government to our local communities to increase the number of potential workers with the skills we need.

At the national level, we banded together to support the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. And we were pleased to see President Obama sign it into law a few weeks ago. The new law covers dozens of job training programs and prioritizes the use of industry-recognized standards and credentials, something that is especially significant for One Voice as NTMA and PMA are among the founders of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) and remain active in setting the bar for skills standards in the metalworking industry.

At the same time, many of our members work to close the skills gap in their own communities. Take, for instance, Jody Fledderman, Batesville Tool & Die President and PMA Chairman, who was recently featured in a U.S. News & World Report story.

Fledderman participates in a program in Batesville, OH in which local businesses as well as the area community college and high school collaborate to develop a new field of talent for jobs in manufacturing. As Fledderman stated in the article, "There’s a lot going in with retraining the existing workforce and that kind of stuff, but we wanted to concentrate more on having manufacturing being a first thought for kids when they’re getting out of high school versus an afterthought.”

And Fledderman is not the only person who wants to focus on attracting a new generation of manufacturing workers. In a move that combines national and local efforts, PMA and NTMA are also fighting the skills gap by sponsoring the third annual MFG Day 2014.

Scheduled for October 3 this year, manufacturing facilities all across the country will open their doors on MFG Day so that students, parents, job seekers, and other community members can experience modern manufacturing technology and learn about careers in the sector. “We need to attract a new generation of Americans to fill the tens of thousands of skilled manufacturing job openings that exist today,” said NTMA President Dave Tilstone in a press release about the event.

The skills gap weighs down the U.S. manufacturing sector like the heavy humidity of a Washington, DC summer day. But, this August and Fall, One Voice isn’t letting it keep us down. Solving the skills gap is up to us and we’re ready for the challenge.

Edited by Joy Chang, Digital Project Manager, CFE Media,