U.S. manufacturing is helping to pull the U.S. out of its economic doldrums, and politicians and pundits are paying attention, said a Manufacturing Institute official promoting a college certification program for industrial skills.
“Over the last few months, manufacturing has enjoyed something of a national spotlight,” said Gardner Carrick, senior director of the Manufacturing Institute. Americans are beginning to recognize that manufacturing is vital to the economic and national security. At the same time, some work that was shipped to China is coming back to the U.S.
“No other industry creates more value, or has a higher multiplier effect,” he said at the Plastics News Executive Forum in Tampa. The Manufacturing Institute is a nonprofit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers.
“The attention paid to manufacturing from policymakers and the support of the American public could not be happening at a better time, because we may actually be on the cusp of a renaissance in manufacturing in the United States,” Carrick said in his presentation Jan. 30.
Even so, after decades of rhetoric that “manufacturing is dead,” 82 percent of U.S. manufacturers report a moderate or serious skills gap, Carrick said. They can't find qualified workers. Today, he said, 5 percent of factory jobs remain unfilled — that's 600,000 open positions. “That would put a generous dent in the U.S. unemployment rate.”
So Washington-based Manufacturing Institute has launched a certification program that Carrick said should give people a clear path to get education leading to a manufacturing job. The institute is working with groups like the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the American Welding Society and the National Institute for Metalworking Skills.
The groups are asking community and technical colleges to list courses that develop specific industrial skills leading to specific jobs, and the ultimate pay rate. What started as a pilot program four years ago is now being sought by hundreds of colleges, he said. Enrollment is strong.
“What's significant about that is, students can now clearly see the difference between school, jobs and money, and make an informed decision about how long they should stay in school,” Carrick said.
The effort is moving beyond an initial emphasis on welding and machining into areas like automation, he said. The Manufacturing Institute's website has a quick job search function where people can view job listings.
Carrick said NAM wants to the help employers focus their hiring efforts using the Internet, as opposed to the old “post and pray model.”