02/21/2012 02:32 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2012

Help Wanted: Skilled Manufacturing Workers

The U.S. economy is gathering momentum and the key driver is manufacturing. Not only is our industrial sector growing, but after more than a decade of losses in manufacturing jobs, we are actually going in the other direction. We added 50,000 manufacturing jobs in January on top of 32,000 the month before. This is a welcome trend that augurs well for the near term future. As former President of the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute, I am well aware that manufacturing jobs have a powerful multiplier effect on the economy, supporting jobs in services and other industrial sectors. On average, 100 manufacturing jobs support 58 other jobs.

There is no great mystery why this is so. Manufacturing is intensely innovative and dynamic. It pulls raw materials from Mother Nature and transforms them with human creativity and liberal infusions of energy into finished products that enhance the quality of life for all of us. This is why the several states compete so vigorously for new manufacturing plants. State government officials understand that manufacturing is the straw that stirs their economic drink. The comeback of manufacturing is just what our economy needs.

There are cautionary voices insisting that manufacturing will never again become an incubator of millions of jobs. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and more recently former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors Christina Romer have emphasized this view. They say manufacturing jobs have gone away and are not coming back.

They may be right, but it is not because we cannot create a new generation of advanced manufacturing jobs. The problem is a workforce woefully lacking in the skills needed to work in modern manufacturing. Right now we have about 600,000 good manufacturing jobs going begging.

The big impediment it seems to me is one of perception. Young people have an antiquated perception of what manufacturing is like. Modern manufacturing is not your father's greasy factory floor; it is more like Star Trek - clean, dynamic and challenging.

This is not a new problem. For all of my many years at the NAM and the Institute, we heard the same refrain from our members about the skills shortage. It is a major reason many U.S. firms build factories overseas. Some years ago, the Institute launched a visionary program, Dream It! Do It! to attract more bright young people into manufacturing careers, and map out a route for them to follow. This program has been well received and effective, primarily in regions where manufacturing is highly concentrated. But it should be everywhere, coast to coast. This is a program of business, by business and for business. If your company is not on board with Dream It! Do It! it should be.

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