It's Time to Build a Strong Workforce

2011 has been a good year for manufacturing. Now it’s time to work on finding appropriately skilled workers to fill the current demand for jobs and replace an aging workforce.


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Well, it’s time to ring out 2011. And barring any last-minute hiccups, according to most information I’m privy to, it’s been a good year for manufacturing.
Shops I talk to are busy and do not see a let-up in the foreseeable future. Even the catastrophe earlier in the year in Japan that lead to critical shortages in many industries seems to be working itself out sooner than was expected.
As we round the corner into 2012, I wanted to mention two bright spots that recently came to my attention. They have to do with home-grown initiatives to help with our industry’s most pressing problem: finding appropriately skilled workers to fill the current demand for jobs and replacing an aging population already employed.
Let’s face the facts: There will be no federal, state or local knight to come charging to our rescue, no matter how much lip service is being devoted to the subject. Small- to medium-sized businesses historically have been on their own.
I also think for manufacturing to continue to lead the economy as we have for the past couple years, our skills shortage needs to be addressed. There are many groups, associations and companies working hard to direct young people and the not so young toward a career in the manufacturing field.
As Hanan Fishman, president of Partmaker Software, puts it in a recent release: “Today’s jobs situation seems to be a tale of two markets. On one hand, nationwide unemployment stubbornly hovers at more than 9 percent. On the other hand, advanced CNC manufacturers are having a hard time finding the skilled help they need to meet customer demands in the face of increased part complexity, reduced lot sizes and shorter lead times.”
There are tools available to make manufacturing an interesting and rewarding vocation. Multitasking machine tools that can machine complex parts in a single handling are helping shops do more with less. Additionally, software (such as that from PartMaker) is automating the complex programming requirements of these advanced machine tools.
The disconnect seems to be finding people or making available the skills needed to operate in this more-sophisticated manufacturing environment. To that end, in order to close what it calls the “skills gap,” for a limited time Partmaker is offering free or reduced-cost training on its multitasking and Swiss-type programming software in facilities in Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, as well as at customers’ facilities or via the Internet. All classes are taught by the company’s application engineers and engineers with decades of combined CAD/CAM experience.
Another example of a manufacturer stepping up is a $150,000 grant recently made by the Gene Haas Foundation to SME’s Education Foundation for machinist training in high unemployment markets. According to SME, the goal of this grant is to align machinist training with the needs of job seekers and employers in targeted local communities where unemployment is between 8 and 12 percent.
According to Bart Aslin, CEO of the SME Foundation, “There is an urgent need, and so the time is now. We have created a growing number of strong partnerships between organizations, businesses and exemplary schools to bring a comprehensive approach to manufacturing education.”
Offering scholarships is another example of how movements begin—small, even one person at a time—but in order to grow, the key is to get something in motion.  
I really like hearing about companies such as Partmaker and Haas and organizations such as SME stepping up to the plate to try to do something positive about the skills gap in our country’s manufacturing economy. History has shown us that if the industry doesn’t help itself, there are few alternatives.
My guess is that there are other examples of companies, associations, schools and other manufacturing-focused entities trying to move manufacturing forward by engaging the workforce for the 21st century. As I said, I want to hear more about these efforts. If you know of any, please drop me an email. Perhaps I can share the information nationally, and it might inspire more positive efforts such as these. If you tell somebody and they tell somebody…
Happy Holidays from the Production Machining staff.