Focus on the Workforce: Workforce Development: A Dream or a Nightmare?
For the past several years, SME has been suggesting that a highly skilled workforce is necessary to meet the needs of 21st Century manufacturing. A year ago, Manufacturing Engineering magazine launched its workforce development section, which highlights industry practices and training/academic programs that support, educate, and prepare the workforce for manufacturing positions. To continue moving this mission forward and achieve our workforce development goals, we have partnered with other organizations who share the same focus, including: Project Lead The Way (PLTW). Along with SME, PLTW has developed more than 250 successful Gateway Academies. The academies give young people insight into the value of math, science, and teaming. In addition, the academies provide a platform for a future in engineering and manufacturing. Through programs like this, and with relationships with other organizations such as NACME (National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering) and Focus Hope in the city of Detroit, the SME Foundation is doing its part to provide hope for intercity youth, so that they can find meaningful careers in manufacturing.
The Manufacturing Institute's partnership with SME (the institute is part of the National Association of Manufacturing) is providing a structure for both the development and promotion of new peer-based credentials, along with the understanding of the need for existing industry-based certifications, such as the Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE) and Certified Manufacturing Technologist (CMfgT), which are both transferable and recognized by industry. This partnership is both increasing awareness and providing support at the community college and university level for the inclusion of the CMfgT and CMfgE Body of Knowledge, which supports industry needs in manufacturing.
The Society is also participating with groups such as NACFAM (National Action Council for Advanced Manufacturing), NDIA (National Defense Industry Association), AWIA (American Wind Industry Association), and regional councils like the GLMC (Great Lakes Manufacturing Council). Industry and government actively participate in these groups, and all of them provide input for the skills needed for industry, and a platform for communicating those needs.
Most recently, in October 2009, SME participated in the GLMC's Great Lakes Manufacturing Forum in Chicago, where we heard and discussed the industry's workforce needs. Forum participants came from across the region to support and develop the tactics needed for supporting manufacturing growth through workforce development. As a result of this forum, SME started a framework on a working agenda that addresses innovation and the manufacturing workforce.
All of the above activities and partnerships provide evidence that the need for and the desire to develop a 21st-century workforce exists. Societies, councils, and associations, working with their members, understand the current and future requirements for a highly skilled workforce. A successful manufacturing workforce requires all levels of education, starting with technical vocations and ending with advanced degrees. We cannot solve the needs of North American manufacturing companies without these important skill sets.
The question really is: are we fulfilling that dream or living the nightmare of a service-based economy, where most of the highly technical jobs will go to countries that value education and training more than the US? We need a concentrated effort that includes support from local, regional, and national government, with the greatest support coming from the highest leaders in the land.
There is not enough time for all the competition between states, regional authorities, and educational institutions for the workforce dollars available. Most industrial countries understand this, and encourage collaboration between industry, education, and government. We must do the same, and work together to solve the most important issue for North America to emerge in the last several decades.
This article was first published in the January 2010 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.