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Who Needs Another Task Force on the Workforce Issue?

Posted By David Brousell, October 14, 2013 at 1:21 PM, in Category: Next-Generation Leadership and the Changing Workforce

Earlier this month, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) announced that it was forming a “task force” on the workforce issue faced by industry, a long-persisting problem that has been the subject of many surveys, studies, and committees over the years.

So why does the manufacturing industry need yet another group of industry executives to study an issue that has already been studied to what many would say is near if not complete exhaustion?

The answer may be as simple as: because this multi-faceted problem – involving such complicated factors as the education system, industry/academic partnerships, apprenticeships, changing skills requirements in the workplace, and the role of government – isn’t being solved. Moreover, despite all of the work that has been done in an attempt to increase understanding of the issue and develop solutions to it, the workforce problem appears to be getting worse.

In a Manufacturing Leadership Council survey issued earlier this year entitled “The Manufacturing Workforce: A Deepening Crisis,” the challenge of attracting new production/operations talent with the right academic backgrounds, attitudes and skills for what is becoming a more automated, technology-based, and collaborative working environment was seen as getting worse in the next five to 10 years.

NAM said its new Task Force on Competitiveness and the Workforce will be chaired by Chip Blankenship, president and chief executive of GE Appliances, and will consist of 15 members drawn from the manufacturing industry. The task force will focus on the gap between the preparedness of workers and the skills manufacturers need as well as the problem of too few graduates in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematical disciplines – two key areas that are constraining manufacturers’ attempts to fill what is estimated to be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of open jobs today.

The task force will hold its first hearing in January of 2014 to identify common problems across industry sectors and explore solutions, NAM said. Throughout next year, the task force will meet with public- and private-sector groups to find ways that industry and government at all levels can work together to ensure that the U.S. has a globally competitive manufacturing workforce.

NAM’s formation of this new task force follows by just over a month an effort at the state level to get on top of the workforce issue. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, who became chair of the National Governors Association in August, recently announced her NGA Chair’s initiative called America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs.

It is good to see industry and government leaders rolling up their sleeves to tackle the manufacturing workforce issue. In some ways, the problem needs as much attention as it can get. But there also needs to be coordination among all of the organizations focused on this issue – there are many more besides NAM and Gov. Fallin trying to understand and find answers -- or efforts could become repetitive at best and confused and ineffective at worst.

Now, if there only was a Cabinet-level Secretary of Manufacturing to pull everyone together …

Written by David Brousell

Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council

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