Employment paradox

In late April, the National Association of Manufacturers released the results of an important study, Keeping America Competitive: How a Talent Shortage Threatens U.S. Manufacturing . If you have been watching this column over the past few years, you know that this is a topic we've touched on a number of times.
By Richard L. Dunn Editor June 12, 2003

In late April, the National Association of Manufacturers released the results of an important study, Keeping America Competitive: How a Talent Shortage Threatens U.S. Manufacturing .

If you have been watching this column over the past few years, you know that this is a topic we’ve touched on a number of times. Now the NAM has provided some important numbers and perspective to the problem.

There is a kind of paradox developing in U.S. manufacturing employment. The NAM report explains it this way:

“A long-term manufacturing employment and skills crisis is developing, one with ominous implications for the economy and national security. The loss of more than 2 million manufacturing jobs during the recent recession and anemic recovery masks a looming shortage of highly skilled, technically competent employees who can fully exploit the potential of new technologies and support increased product complexity.”

A 2001 study conducted by NAM ( The Skills Gap: Manufacturers Confront Persistent Skills Shortages in an Uncertain Economy ) revealed that more than 80% of the surveyed manufacturers reported a “moderate to serious” shortage of qualified job applicants even though manufacturing was suffering serious layoffs. “In sum,” the new report concludes, “what manufacturing is facing is not a lack of employees, but a shortfall of highly qualified employees with specific educational backgrounds and skills.” Current trends project a need for 10 million new skilled workers by 2020, the NAM says.

“The most critical shortages … were in production and the direct support of production, including engineering and skilled crafts. Manufacturers also cited shortages in technical skills, inadequate basic employability skills, and inadequate reading and writing skills among both job applicants and incumbent workers,” according to the new study.

So, what’s to be done?

The NAM report lists four proposals:

  • The President should declare manufacturing a national priority

  • Congress should establish a National Manufacturing Day

  • Manufacturers should open their plants to young people, parents, and educators on National Manufacturing Day

  • Educators should take students to a modern plant on National Manufacturing Day.

    • These proposals are all well and good. But they won’t get the job done. To them, I would add, first, everyone working in manufacturing needs to take a personal responsibility to encourage young people toward careers in manufacturing. And second, I would encourage all professional associations and societies connected with manufacturing to set a priority on publicizing its importance and the fine careers it offers.

      This is not a problem to be corrected by “them.” It must be faced and acted upon by all of “us.”