Manufacturing and skilled workers

I find the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) study quoted in your Column [Comment, June 2003, p15] to be hypocritical. Manufacturers whine about a lack of skilled workers, engineers, and managers, while at the same time either underutilizing or eliminating the talent they already have. Plant engineering is a classic example.
By Staff July 14, 2003

I find the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) study quoted in your Column [Comment, June 2003, p15] to be hypocritical. Manufacturers whine about a lack of skilled workers, engineers, and managers, while at the same time either underutilizing or eliminating the talent they already have.

Plant engineering is a classic example. Many of my peers continue to leave this career path due to reductions in staff, mounting demands, and a lack of resources. Nothing is more frustrating to plant engineers than having a solution to a clear and costly problem yet getting put off by CEOs who will not consider any future beyond the current quarter. Companies that refuse to consider projects that pay back in less than one year because the immediate expense will impact the current quarter’s results are short-sighted. And they will never see the end of the cost-saving spiral.

Worse, companies or plants that see the need for skilled plant engineers either cannot, or will not, pay for those skills. Experienced plant engineers have a wealth of knowledge, but that knowledge came from years of training, education, and personal sacrifice. Manufacturers cannot expect to attract these skills at shift-supervisor wages.

And what about the manufacturers’ role in developing skills? Instead of complaining about a lack of skilled employees, manufacturers need to take an active role in improving their employees’ skills. How many of those companies in the NAM survey, while decrying a lack of skilled workers, were simultaneously cutting training and educational support programs?

What manufacturers continue to fail to recognize is that they do not develop the talent they have. Many local colleges and trade schools have excellent technical programs, yet workers are discouraged to use them either by a lack of flexible schedules or an inability to pay for the classes.

Why should anyone recommend a career in manufacturing to a young person when all young people read about is:

  • The movement of manufacturing to China, Indonesia, and Mexico

  • Ongoing reductions in manufacturing jobs

  • The abuse of middle management and technical employees by top management bent on wringing every ounce or more out of ever less.

    • Until members of the NAM decide to invest in the United States, and in their U.S. workers, they cannot complain about the lack of skilled employees available.

      U.S. manufacturers are stuck in a dire cycle. Until the manufacturing sector realizes that 6% ROI, or solid profit growth of 4%-8% is real profit growth and real money, not much will change. It will take real courage to change these attitudes. I don’t see much courage among the current crop of CEOs.

      — Brian M. Varley, Manager, Facilities Engineering, U.S. Can Company