The Manufacturing Mandate: Building a Smartforce

We need to change perceptions about what it means to have a career in manufacturing.

Recently, AMT published an updated version of The Manufacturing Mandate, which we first released in 2010. One of the three key initiatives of the AMT Manufacturing Mandate to power the U.S. economy is to build a better educated and trained Smartforce.

There are currently more than 300,000 open positions in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Manufacturing jobs are high value-added jobs with good pay and benefits, providing young people with a direct pathway to the middle class in America. In 2010, the average U.S. manufacturing worker earned $77,186 in annual pay and benefits as compared with the average worker across all industries who earned $56,436 according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Currently, however, the national education system is not producing the workers with the skills required to work in today’s advanced manufacturing facilities and not producing them as quickly as needed.

In order to fill the open positions and new positions that will be created in the coming years as more manufacturing work is reshored to the U.S., we have to develop a Smartforce of critically thinking, technically savvy and motivated people.

Fundamentally, we need to change perceptions about what it means to have a career in manufacturing, and the President’s Council of Advisors Science and Technology (PCAST) has made recommendations to correct public misconceptions about manufacturing.

AMT is a Strategic Alliance Partner of the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers (NCATC). These are 160 of the top community college programs around the country that have outstanding advanced manufacturing technology programs in place that provides manufacturing companies with direct access to an educational partner in their local area.

Most of the NCATC schools are already NIMS (National Institute for Metalworking Skills) accredited or on their way to earning accreditation from NIMS. This accreditation provides individuals with the knowledge and portability they need to advance in their careers. 

Manufacturing rebounded much more quickly than many anticipated after the financial meltdown, and manufacturing could have led the country out of the Great Recession sooner and in a more robust way if not for our inability to educate and recruit people to replace our aging and retiring workforce.

Programs like Right Skills Now have been launched to allow students and the unemployed to complete a fast track program with industry credentials and the ability to go on to an advanced degree.

AMT agrees with this fast track model, and we’re working with schools, companies and individuals to institutionalize a new degree program model we’re calling “2 Plus.”

The “plus” is that we’re not asking schools to revise their curriculum or degree programs. Instead, we are encouraging students and educators to consider joining the workforce immediately after they graduate with an Associate degree rather than taking the typical 2 + 2 approach.

A “2 Plus” track allows the student to get a degree, and then a job after 2 years, plus benefits, plus less overall cost for the 2-year college program, plus little or no student loan debt, plus an internship with a company while still in school, plus the opportunity to return to college to get an engineering degree, a business degree, and so on, while still working, plus potentially have their employer pay for the remaining 2 years of their degree. We are also working with schools like the University of Wisconsin Stout and others that provide a Master of Science in Manufacturing Engineering degree online so that the degree can be earned while the individual is still working and that degree may be paid for by an employer.

The pluses are unlimited for the individual, for companies and for our industry. For bridging the skills gap, employers have access to a greater pool of qualified candidates who are seeking a career in manufacturing and who have the credentials that will require little or no additional training.

For the individual, we are especially concerned with the mounting student loan debt issue in the U.S., and we believe that a fast track education that begins in an outstanding community college program is an effective way to begin addressing this issue.