Manufacturing ready to grow if skilled workers are available

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by Mark Dobbins
May 30, 2014

Six hundred thousand. That’s the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs in the U.S. because employers can’t find the right people with the right training to hire.

A new study by The Manufacturing Institute and Accenture finds that while 50 percent of the companies surveyed plan to increase U.S.-based production by at least 5 percent in the next five years, more than 75 percent of those firms report a moderate to severe shortage of skilled resources, costing them 11 percent annually in lost earnings.

Why are available jobs not matching up with training?

For the last several years, I have been working through the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry on various approaches to match up education with manufacturing sector needs. It’s an endeavor akin to herding cats. Terrific cats, and even excellent cats, but try herding them, and you’ll find that it takes a special skill set to move forward with change.

What I have discovered in my own personal cat-herding experience is that the landscape is covered with good people, good schools and good intentions. It is also covered with changing times, bureaucracy and resistance to change.

In a recent meeting of a national focus group I attended, the governor of Oklahoma suggested that state legislatures believe there is no money when you talk about school reform. But we do have money. We have money that could be spent on getting us to the leading edge of workforce development and not funding for the sake of funding; not funding traditional formulas whose effectiveness is questionable.

Here in our state, we’ve formed a group called the Arizona Manufacturing Partnership. It brings manufacturing and education together to understand the puzzle facing our workforce development efforts and to solve it.

There’s a difficult job ahead of our group as we butt up against preconceived notions about post-secondary education. Do you want your kids to be the first to go to college in the family? Then let’s help assure they don’t earn a degree that is unlikely to open career opportunities in this 21st century global economy. Do you want your kids to be the first in a few generations not to go to college? Why not? Well over half of the best-paying jobs in Arizona do not require a four-year degree, but do require post-high school skill education and training.

I once heard an education professional say, “We don’t train people for jobs; we educate them.” If that’s the case, we should inform students and their parents up-front that our education system will not be a direct link to a career and the American dream. We should be able to say just the opposite.

Working together we can grow the Arizona economy for all by training a qualified workforce. The Arizona Manufacturing Partnership is dedicated to achieving a statewide focus on the best path for Arizona.

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Mark Dobbins is chairman of the Workforce Arizona Council; a past chairman of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry; the co-chairman of the Arizona Manufacturing Partnership; and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Manufacturers.