05/15/2012 08:22 am ET Updated Jul 15, 2012

Manufacturing Jobs

We can make a major dent in the jobless rate by providing unemployed workers with the skills they need to fill an estimated 600,000 vacancies in manufacturing today -- a number that continues to grow. Filling this gap in our education/training matrix would also strengthen manufacturing and make it more competitive.

In my many years as president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the number one concern of our members was not taxes, regulations, litigation or health care, it was the skills shortage. Then and now, manufacturers complain they cannot find qualified employees. Modern manufacturing requires a sophisticated skills set that most job applicants simply do not have.

The Manufacturing Institute, an affiliate of the NAM that I helped launch many years ago, is doing more than any other single agency or program to help prepare a new generation of manufacturing workers. The Institute's Dream It! Do It! Initiative, in which businesses work with community organizations, public schools and community colleges to educate young people about career opportunities in manufacturing, and equip them with the skills they need to get those jobs, is now in 20 states and doing wonderful work.

Perhaps even more promising is the Institute's relatively new Manufacturing Skills Certification System, a composite of stackable secondary and post-secondary credentials that prepare people with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in manufacturing. These nationally portable, industry-recognized credentials validate the skills the competencies that applicants need to be productive and successful in the modern manufacturing environment.

The Institute's latest wrinkle is, a new on-line career navigation and employment tool specifically designed to attract military personnel transitioning into civilian life to manufacturing careers. Many military jobs entail the same basic skill sets needed in manufacturing. They provide a great talent pool.

The Institute brought together an awesome array of partners in developing this system. What it now needs is real world manufacturers who will join the program, and use it to find the qualified job applicants they need. I know some manufacturers are concerned that their specific workplaces are unique, and that no generalized training program can provide applicants who are good fits. But that attitude is missing the mark. Anyone coming into your work environment is going to have to adjust to your situation and adapt their experience and skills to your needs. But you can be assured the people coming through this certification program have the basic knowledge and abilities you are looking for.

The Institute has set a goal of certifying a half million manufacturing workers by 2016. In 2011, it certified 84,000. With a bit of cooperation from business, they can reach their goal and then some. It's time for manufacturers to become more engaged in closing the skills gap by connecting with the Manufacturing Institute's certification program.

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. May 2012