04/08/2013 08:57 am ET | Updated Jun 08, 2013

Workforce Training

Perhaps my proudest and most lasting achievement over my 14 years as President of the National Association of Manufacturers is the Dream It. Do It. program that has enabled thousands of people to acquire the skills they need to work in modern manufacturing.

The original idea came appropriately enough from the NAM's think tank, the Manufacturing Institute, which in those days was ably led by my wise and resourceful friend Phyllis Eisen. It was Eisen who had the brilliant idea to bring groups of young people together to help design a program that would have broad appeal, and also to come up with the name.

The challenge was conspicuous more than 10 years ago when we conceived Dream It. Do IT. and has grown even more daunting in the intervening years. Though our country has lost millions of manufacturing jobs, the great majority of manufacturers are having trouble finding applicants for jobs that remain unfilled. Modern manufacturing is much more technically sophisticated than it used to be. A typical manufacturing worker today has an associate's degree from a community college, or the equivalent. Applicants must be adept with math, science and computers, and be able to constantly relearn their jobs.

An even greater problem is the widespread misperception among young people that manufacturing is grimy, tedious work that offers little upside potential. That may have been true a generation ago, but it is not true today. The modern manufacturing plant is straight out of science fiction, the work is exciting and ever changing, and opportunities abound.

Dream It. Do It. as it has grown under new leadership at the Institute, brings together local business executives, political leaders and educators to design programs specifically for their own communities and regions. We wisely decided to avoid the traditional Washington "one size fits all" mentality. Local leaders know best what their communities need, and through Dream It. Do It. they are empowered to design and manage programs that fill their specific needs which may vary dramatically from those of a neighboring community or state.

Dream It! Do It! offers a framework for community leaders to come together to forge local programs that work for them and has developed an arsenal of creative materials developed over more than a decade of experience to support them. Each year, Dream It. Do It. convenes the Dream It. Do It. Collaborative Learning Conference in which participants from around the country come together to share best practices, identify challenges and speak to accomplishments. Prominent experts in workforce training are brought in to work directly with the network.

At present, Dream It. Do It. is operating 25 programs around the country, including recent additions in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Florida. This is a true grassroots program that is producing thousands of highly qualified applicants for challenging positions in modern manufacturing. Anyone interested in learning more about the program should contact Nicholas D'Antonio of the Manufacturing Institute at 202-637-3493,

Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements. April 2013

Sign up for our email.
Find out how much you really know about the state of the nation.