CHICAGO - When the National Association of Manufacturers kicked off its week-long gala in Chicago on March 18 with a press conference, worker training was part of the dialogue. A recent NAM survey made clear that many firms blame the U.S. school system for failing to meet manufacturing's needs for a skilled work force. Still, not all critics want to participate in the problem's solution.
For more than a year, Ron Pleasant and a consortium of Ohio manufacturers he helped organize, called the Skilled People Council, have been attacking the trouble where it lives - in their own backyard.
Pleasant, a Kenton, Ohio, moldmaker and injection molder, believes manufacturers need to join forces with local school boards and chambers of commerce to resolve the shortage of qualified trade labor in their own communities.
The consortium draws on the resources of manufacturers and machine shops within a 40-mile radius of the Kenton-Belle-fontaine region. In addition to Pleasant's own Pleasant Precision Inc., SPC members include some big names - Honda of America Manufacturing Inc. in Marysville and Rockwell International Corp. in Ken-ton, he said in a March 20 interview at his company's booth at the National De-sign Engineer-ing Show in Chicago.
A key issue for any such group is im-proving the community's understanding of the educational requirements in manufacturing, Pleasant said in a recent telephone interview. Even the schools don't realize there is a``skilled tradespeople crisis,'' he said.
To make that fact known, SPC sends speakers to attend community meetings and discuss what can be done to remedy the situation.
At least part of the problem is this: While roughly 80 percent of high school kids go on to college, most of the available jobs need trade skills from vocational schools, not four-year degrees, he said.
The implication is that too many high school students are making decisions about their futures without knowing either the facts or the options. That's why SPC targets high schools, joint vocational schools and junior colleges in its information campaign.
The group pushes three main employment areas - machining, computers and maintenance. His own firm's business, injection mold making, is introduced to students as an ``outreach of machining,'' he said, noting that such a broad-based approach is important to SPC's success.
``What's wrong with a lot of programs out there is they're too focused toward the plastics side,'' he said.