May 30, 2011

Manufacturing workforce shortfall

A visit to local sheet metal fabricating firm Corry Contracting Inc., showed them the CAD software the firm was using. I don't mean to write an ad for a specific product, but one company deserves kudos. Doug Kafferlin, president of the company, tapped the Siemens Global Opportunities in Product Lifecycle Management (GO PLM™) for help. GO PLM is an example of a program that can entrance students who live for video games and let them experience the challenge of designing and manufacturing a real object.  It gives schools free software, including SolidEdge. By developing advanced CAD skills, said Corry contracting estimator Paul Kraft, “Corry students will be among the first to lead us into the next generation of mechanical design and implementation.”
2010 Winner - Thomas Hall
Southwood High School
Students in the technology program at St. Francis High School in St. Francis, MN,build an entire V-twin chopper from the ground up. With help from local businesses that offer parts and accessories, tool grinding services, and lessons on bodywork, painting, and metalforming, students feel the excitement of manufacturing a finished product while they gain skills local employers need.

GO PLM also sponsors a student design contest. A few winners:

2011 Winner - Alan Day
Brigham Young University
Unfortunately, there are far too few cases like these to fill the manufacturing workforce needs of today. And as experienced workers retire and knowledge walks out the door, the future is an even greater concern.

Research backs up the anecdotal evidence. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) surveys manufacturers regularly about workforce issues, and its 2009 report, People and Profitability: A Time for Change, [this updates the oft-quoted pre-recession 2005 report]  said employers are most worried about two general categories:

    51 percent reported moderate to serious shortages of skilled production workers (machinists, operators, craft workers, distributors, and technicians) today, and the vast majority see increased shortages ahead.
    36 percent reported moderate to serious shortages of engineers and scientists today, and again, the vast majority see increased shortages looming.

Interestingly, when NAM compared more profitable firms to those that were less successful, differences in talent management attitudes emerged. Sixty-one percent of the most profitable firms, compared to only 43 percent of the least profitable, said a highly-skilled, flexible workforce was among their top three priorities for the future.

Manpower conducts an annual global survey of employers. In the 2010 Talent Shortage Survey, skilled trades tops the list of the top ten workforce categories that employers in the United States and Canada are having problems finding. Technicians ranked second, and engineers ranked eighth. These same job categories are among the most difficult to fill all around the world.

Advanced technical skills are hard enough to find. Worse, employers consistently report that applicants for job openings lack even the most basic skills. One contract drug maker in Cleveland said it received 3600 job applications for 100 job openings, yet could hire only 47 that fit their needs. The problem — too many fail basic reading and math tests.

Working on Solutions

To address the problem, NAM and the testing company ACT have developed a two-part system: an assessment tool called WorkKeys paired with a National Career Readiness Certificate, both relating to real-world workplace skills reported by employers and manufacturing associations as critical to job success. These are basic knowledge and thinking skills like problem solving, critical thinking, reading and applying work-related text, using math for work-related problems, and using graphical information.

When the National Career Readiness Certificate is required of applicants, employers do not waste time evaluating potential hires who do not meet the threshold. The WorkKeys assessment helps individuals understand what skills they need to improve, and the National Career Readiness Certificate gives them a goal. The system also aligns with high school and community college curriculum development and outcome goals.

The American Welding Society (AWS), the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) understand the workplace skills their members need and are partners in the program. They are also helping to develop other technical skill assessments and certificates.

Many professional and trade organizations offer resources to schools and scholarships to students to help meet workforce demand. The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) helps educators interest children and young adults in engineering and technical careers and prepare them for that future. AME Alliance Partners APICS, ASQ, IIE, and SME have robust programs for educators and students, as do the AWS, SAE, and ASME. Associations also offer members lifelong learning opportunities and professional certifications to maintain and update their skills.

The leadership qualities required to support workforce development both within and outside their companies, as well as to drive lean transformations, are being addressed by the AME Institute, which is partnering with Arizona State University to create an intensive program called “Leadership Development for the Innovative Enterprise.”


In addition to students, unemployed and incumbent workers must be helped to update their skills and supply the talent manufacturers need. People devastated by the loss of jobs want to work, but just don’t have the right skills for today’s jobs. Economic development organizations, community colleges, and grant-making agencies in some states are realizing that the quality of the local workforce can make or break their ability to compete for new manufacturing investment in their communities. They go so far as to foot the bill for recruiting, screening, and training job-ready workers for new plants being built.

Local job loss is exacerbated by uncompetitive companies that shrink instead of grow. The same partnerships that up-skill the unemployed often support local manufacturers by helping them train their workers in basic skills, advanced manufacturing technologies, and continuous improvement. So-called incumbent worker grant funding for retraining is available from states, but smaller manufacturers need the grant writers, grant managers, and affordable training that good local partnerships can provide.

Much has been said about the root causes of the manufacturing skills crisis; there is no single solution. There are contributions that one person or one company can make, however. Lean leaders are problem solvers, team builders, and strategists, and Target will be sharing resources, ideas, and examples in the coming months to help our readers develop countermeasures for snags in the manufacturing talent supply chain.

Is our government listening? President Obama has said, “When it comes to workforce development, one of the most important things that we’ve all learned is how important it is to get businesses in early with the universities and the community colleges — a hugely under-utilized resource — to develop the actual training program so that young people have confidence if they go through this training program, they’ve got a job; businesses have confidence that if they hire these young people who went through the training program, they are trained for those jobs.”

Readers know how daunting it is to convince local schools, businesses, and families to get the picture. No need for another rant on that subject. I thought I'd do a bit of fact-checking for those of you who are raising your voices to spread the workforce message.

A version of this  article I wrote was previously published in Target magazine, from the Association for Manufacturing Excellence.

1 comment:

John Hunter said...

Good stuff. This is an important area and one we neglect. By and large we are not good at addresses complex issues that don't provide huge financial rewards that can be captured by those finding good solutions.

This one we will handle but pretty ineffectively I would guess. Most likely in wasy that lead to things like the current salary of petroleum engineers. We greatly reduced the available supply for decades then...

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