The future is bright for manufacturing and there is no shortage of opportunity for innovation and growth right here in the United States. To do that sustainably, however, we must confront an issue that many businesses are now facing -- the Skills Gap.
Despite high unemployment, businesses are struggling to find skilled employees. Compounding the problem, millions of Baby Boomers are preparing to leave the workforce, and we haven't even begun to account for growth.
Will it be possible to fill this gap? If we are struggling to find skilled people today, where will we find them in the future, as the problem magnifies? How do we fix this problem?
There is a lot of talk about STEM education as the solution. Many people wonder, "What the heck is STEM?" They are then told it means, "Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math." But that's not really a sufficient explanation.
Frankly, STEM starts with the basics that all people should master in a rudimentary education. The ability to read, write, do math, and think critically are all key pillars, complimented by the ability to show up on time, communicate effectively, and work in teams. People with these skills can be developed and trained to pursue a menagerie of career pathways. Without those foundational skills, the future is bleak.
Click Bond is the global leader in the design and manufacture of adhesive-bonded fasteners and whether we're talking about an entry level accountant, assembly technician, a quality inspector, a top design engineer or the people who package and ship our product across the globe, all aspects of our operation require these foundational skill sets on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, even with record unemployment numbers, it remains challenging to find people who can demonstrate these basic, fundamental skills.
Some allege that this gap isn't real and that's it's just an acute problem: manufacturers are just too picky. Others say manufacturers don't pay enough or contend that manufacturing just represents dirty, low-level jobs.
On the notion that we are too selective --the ability to read, write, do math, problem-solve, show up on time, communicate effectively and work in teams isn't some outrageous litmus test for employment; it's the minimum threshold to have a chance at a future on any career path.
As for the argument that our pay is too low -- in 2011, the average manufacturing worker in the United Sates earned $77,060 annually, including pay and benefits. The average worker in all industries earned $60,168. Additionally, manufacturing has the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector ($1.48 for every $1 spent).
With respect to our factories being dirty and our jobs being low level -- people are constantly impressed with how clean and high tech manufacturing operations are in the 21st century. We sit at the forefront of environmental, safety, technology, security and quality standards. We can't compete globally otherwise.
Beyond these misperceptions, the reality is, the greatest asset we have is our people. This explains why the vast majority of manufacturers fund robust training and education programs in partnership with our local high schools, community colleges and universities.
In Nevada we are engaging with leaders in higher education -- especially our community colleges -- to ensure that their investments in facilities and curriculum are worthwhile. Last year, we helped deploy a training program that, in just 16 weeks, takes people from the unemployment lines to full time jobs as machine operators. Well over 90% of the graduates achieved full time employment with benefits!
We also partner with workforce development leaders to ensure that training dollars are aligned with the current and future needs of the marketplace. When these needs are aligned with nationally portable, industry-driven credentials, everyone wins. The training provider gains absolute clarity on the quality of instruction necessary for a successful program, and the student earns a viable credential that proves mastery of a skill.
Further, through proactive engagement with our community and by opening the doors of our factories to students, teachers, parents and the broader community, we are dispelling antiquated stereotypes and, once again, getting people excited about "Made in the USA".
The parts we make at Click Bond help make our fighter jets safer and ensure that millions of people can travel safely around the world without incident. Our colleagues are developing exciting technology and products that are achieving remarkable breakthroughs in medicine, renewable energy, IT, transportation, logistics and so much more. The reality is: manufacturing makes America strong. And all of us must work together to keep it that way.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the "Close It" Summit, in conjunction with the upcoming "Close It" Summit (Nov. 5-7, 2013, in Washington, D.C.). The summit will address the U.S. job-market skills gap. For more information on the conference, please visit www.closeit.org.