Action needed to head off looming labor shortage

A core policy priority for the National Association of Manufacturers is preparing a skilled workforce for the 21st century. It may seem odd to speak of a manufacturing labor shortage when we have lost millions of manufacturing jobs in recent years. After all, the state of America's economy and its workers is generally good, and our manufacturing sector continues to drive an ongoing recovery and...


A core policy priority for the National Association of Manufacturers is preparing a skilled workforce for the 21st century. It may seem odd to speak of a manufacturing labor shortage when we have lost millions of manufacturing jobs in recent years. After all, the state of America's economy and its workers is generally good, and our manufacturing sector continues to drive an ongoing recovery and expansion.

The reality is that our member companies are telling us they have jobs going begging because they cannot find suitable workers. In a recent survey, 36% of our members said they had jobs unfilled today because of a lack of qualified applicants. What about tomorrow?

Manufacturing executives recently surveyed by the NAM ranked a "high-performing workforce" as the most important factor in determining their firms' future success. A related study by the Labor Department showed that 85% of future American jobs will require advanced training, an associate's degree or a four-year college degree. Only 15% of future jobs will be performed adequately with minimum skills.

Tomorrow's jobs will go to those with education in science, engineering and math and to those with high-skill technical training. As current science and engineering workers are preparing to retire in the coming decades, the threat of a significant education and skills shortage looms.

Yet by next summer, 40% of our 2002 ninth graders will have either dropped out of high school altogether or will otherwise lack the skills needed for employment. U.S. primary and secondary schools need to do a better job of preparing students for college and graduate studies in math, science and engineering. Our high school students have been losing interest in these key subjects. Contrast this with China, for example, where there are 17 million university and advanced vocational students, most of them in science and engineering. China graduated 220,000 engineers last year — almost four times as many as the United States.

We must have a national workforce-development strategy that incorporates the concerted efforts of business, government and the American family. This strategy should include:

  • Improving secondary science and math teaching to foster better student performance

  • Reforming immigration policies to attract foreign math and science talent

  • Reversing the erosion of federally funded basic research in engineering, math, computer and physical sciences.

    • The share of federal research dollars going to these disciplines has been cut drastically, while the share going to life sciences has gone up. Research that can lead to cures for diseases is important, but if we neglect math, engineering and science, our economy may well develop a severe case of "innovation deficiency" from which it might not recover.

      There is at least one encouraging note: The Commerce Department has, at the request of Congress, scheduled an important Innovation Summit for early December. The NAM is part of the steering committee planning this summit, and we're eager to work with the key business leaders and policymakers who will come together to craft an action agenda for boosting R&D.

      Now, while our economy is strong and we still have time to make necessary policy adjustments, we must act to keep U.S. workers — and our economy as a whole — on the leading edge of innovation and technology. Rome isn't burning yet, but fiddling or doing nothing is not an option.

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Pipe fabrication and IIoT; 2017 Product of the Year finalists
The future of electrical safety; Four keys to RPM success; Picking the right weld fume option
A new approach to the Skills Gap; Community colleges may hold the key for manufacturing; 2017 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
VFDs improving motion control applications; Powering automation and IIoT wirelessly; Connecting the dots
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me