I've just completed my first year as SPI president, and I am more convinced than ever that the intellectual capital of SPI's employees and leaders is my most valuable asset.
People make the difference in our organizations and give us the true competitive advantage in today's marketplace. That's why the latest workforce statistics are of great concern to me.
According to a July report on the nation's aging workforce by the Conference Board, a New York-based nonprofit research organization, about 76 million baby boomers (born 1946-64) are set to retire in large numbers by the end of the decade. This group comprises approximately one-third of the U.S. workforce, and currently there are not enough younger workers to replace them.
The National Association of Manufacturers' 2005 Skills Gap Report makes clear that the real problem for U.S. manufacturers is that the aging workforce dilemma is not occurring globally. India, China and Russia annually have millions more college graduates than the United States. Thanks to inexpensive Internet access and other new technologies, these highly educated folks are no longer hampered by geographical barriers and are able to actively engage in information exchange and new product development.
As the NAM report states, ``With such international talent readily available and significant shortages existing at home, it is clear that the future of American manufacturing may now be at stake.''
Needless to say, competition in the U.S. for the limited new wave of skilled labor will be fierce.
To attract the next generation of U.S. workers to careers in science and engineering, SPI is introducing kids to the plastics industry by leveraging the time-tested magic of Walt Disney.
Entirely funded by industry support, SPI launched the Fantastic Plastics Works exhibit in Innoventions at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. This project seeks to improve the public's understanding and appreciation of our industry as well as to encourage careers in plastics.
Spanning more than 5,000 square feet, Fantastic Plastics Works presents the full scope of the plastics industry - from chemistry to design to manufacturing. A variety of plastic products also display a healthy nod to human ingenuity and creativity. Innoventions cast members highlight plastics `fun facts' and teach guests about the versatility of plastics. This interactive environment allows families to work together as product designers to construct a virtual robot using a variety of plastics properties. Guests then test their designs and the properties of their plastic robots by competing in a virtual obstacle course against other families.
SPI's exhibit is the only operational manufacturing area inside a theme park. The exhibit features a 110-ton injection molding cell complete with hot runner, gantry and six-axis robotics along with state-of-the-art valve- gate sequencing. This molding cell produces the parts for a robot that guests can construct and take home. Six-color concentrates cycle through the system every 60 minutes. The system is not purged between cycles, so the resulting toy parts represent a wide assortment of interesting colors that the kids love. Six hoppers are filled with colorful robot parts. Kids of all ages mix and match colors as they collect the parts to complete the assembly of their robot - the only free toy offered at Epcot.
Is this exhibit addressing our industry's future workforce dilemmas? Yes! Since we have opened SPI's pavilion at Epcot, visitors have dedicated 30 minutes to experience Fantastic Plastics Works. Guest surveys tell us that 81 percent of visitors to the exhibit report a favorable impression of the plastics industry. By comparison, the American Plastics Council has been tracking the perception of the industry since 1991 and typically gets favorability ratings in the 63-65 percent range. When asked how the exhibit influenced their impressions of the plastics industry, 62 percent of Fantastic Plastics Works visitors developed a more positive impression after experiencing the exhibit.
If you have not been able to experience this exhibit in Florida, be sure to visit NPE Booth 4401, which features the injection molding cell operation described above.
The plastic robot toys will be distributed to NPE attendees. Cast members from the exhibit at Epcot are present to discuss the magic of plastics.
In the meantime, remember that Fantastic Plastics Works at Innoventions at Epcot is entirely funded by industry contributions. We need your support to continue the exhibit and inspire the next generation to become our industry's future workforce.
Contact SPI's Tracy Cullen at [email protected] or visit Booth N4401 for more information on supporting this project.
William Carteaux is president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.