Manufacturing—Industry Exec’s Lay the Topic Out on the Table at the CSCMP Chicago Roundtable

A little training goes a long way to address the next-gen skill-sets necessary for mass production


“For every 23,000 lawyers, there is one engineer.” The statement, shared at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ (CSCMP) Chicago Roundtable last month, alone today is staggering, given the number of organizations who worked over the past decade to improve the manufacturing economy.

That’s not to say that manufacturing has not come a long way—it has. And while the vote at CSCMP’s seminar was unanimous that yes, there is a resurgence in manufacturing coming to the U.S., in order to benefit from it and grow we must learn from lessons of our past; understand the key factors that we as an industry must address; and perhaps most important, acknowledge that this cannot be done alone.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” confirmed Mary Ann Cervinka, HR Manager for Arrow Gear Co. “This existed 50 years ago,” she explained, pinpointing to the manufacturing talent shortage, an issue that the industry experienced decades ago when U.S. manufacturers first outsourced production and services to China and other global regions. “But we need to resurrect it now,” she continued, “and you have to be involved.”

And rightly so as increasingly, manufacturers weigh the question, “Should I reshore or continue to outsource?” Yes, workforce labor is just one factor but a vital one nonetheless. We’re all familiar with Deloitte’s report confirming that there are “approximately 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in the U.S. because employers cannot find people with the skills they need.” Does this mean that there will be a stop to offshored jobs in the sector? No. But the statistic does point to a larger issue at hand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that when it comes to production occupations, “textile, apparel and furnishing workers are projected to lose 65,500 jobs by 2020 as improvements in productivity reduce the need for these workers.” Furthermore, it also reports a one percent employment decline in the manufacturing sector as “productivity gains, automation and international competition reduce the demand for labor in most manufacturing industries.”

The key word above being “automation,” there is a different manufacturing shift in action now. The “blue collar” manufacturing jobs 30 to 50 years ago are no longer the jobs of this sector today. Yes, workers are still needed to fill those jobs on the factory lines but now manufacturers require a new level of skill-sets which include networking, technology know-how and IT to meet the intricacies of the sector today.

“As manufacturing changes and becomes more complex, manufacturing companies cannot find the talent to do the work,” confirmed Dan Swinney, Executive Director of the National Manufacturing Renaissance Campaign. “There is a huge problem in the succession of ownership in manufacturing. If we are to improve manufacturing, we need to grow to scale over the next 10 years—that is the only way we’re going to improve the state of manufacturing.”

Not your typical ‘101’ class

It’s evident that a number of organizations, technical schools and universities involved in the educational growth of this sector for years continue to help teach this next generation of workers to develop them into the skilled engineers that manufacturing requires today.

“There are a lot of ongoing retirements in manufacturing facilities,” said Allen Williams, Project Development Manager of the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA). “To have a manufacturing renaissance, you need to have those leaders.”

Chicago’s Center for Labor and Community Research (CLCR), founded by Swinney in 1982, together with the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) Workers Assistance Committee (WAC) began work in 2000 to address its manufacturing economy of Cook County. The Austin Polytechnical Academy is another example of a public high school that prepares students with the knowledge necessary today across all segments of advanced manufacturing. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS)—formed long before the recession post 9/11—continues to set standards and credentials necessary for today.

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