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Focus on the Workforce: Workforce Problems? Are They Real? I Think So.

  Mark C. Tomlinson, CMfgE, EMCP
By Mark C. Tomlinson, CMfgE, EMCP
Executive Director/CEO
Society of Manufacturing Engineers


The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) has been talking about the importance of having a qualified workforce for several years now. National and international media organizations are starting to understand the difference between a qualified workforce with the correct skill sets to solve our future manufacturing challenges, and that repetitive assembly is only a small part of a manufacturing process and its workforce needs. In addition to media recognition, SME is also starting to get some real data on what has been taking place in the manufacturing workforce. Below is what others are saying.

The Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (CREC) recently published a report, "US Manufacturing Jobs: Where Companies are Hiring." In that report, an assessment of Web-based job advertisements finds that manufacturers were seeking to hire for 669,000 Web-advertised job postings during the first six months of 2011. Only a small number of these postings were for production activities. Labor Insight, a Web tool developed by Burning Glass International, Inc. that aggregates data about Web-advertised job openings, demonstrates that manufacturers did indeed seek workers for a variety of opportunities:

9% of Web-advertised job openings in manufacturing during the first six months of 2011 were production related. These openings accounted for just over 60,000 of the manufacturing sector’s nearly 669,000 job openings advertised online between January and June 2011.

Manufacturing job openings were concentrated in major metropolitan areas along the Atlantic seaboard, among Midwestern states, and in Texas and California.

Almost one in four manufacturing job openings was in just three industries—computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing; aerospace product and parts manufacturing; and pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing.

During the first half of 2011, manufacturing openings were largely in sales and management positions, engineering positions, and production occupations requiring significant prior work experience.

Over half of the openings within manufacturing required more than a high school diploma, and one out of every four production-related jobs required educational attainment beyond a high school diploma.

Only 7% of available manufacturing jobs identified a specific certification requirement. Where certifications were required for manufacturing jobs, many related to lean manufacturing.

In a recent ASQ 2012 Manufacturing Outlook Survey, which focuses on both workforce and the unstable economy, the following results were published:

44% of respondents say finding qualified applicants is the biggest hurdle to filling vacant positions, while 27% say budget is the biggest hurdle to filling open positions.

Few manufacturers think their company will be adversely affected by retirements in 2012.

87% of respondents say they use on-the-job training, while 5% say their business requires company-provided classroom training, and 2% said they use third-party training, such as local colleges or other training providers. The remaining respondents say they use any combination of on-the-job training and classroom training.

The findings in both these reports substantiate what SME has been saying for some time now. Quite frankly, in my opinion, there’s been enough talk—we now need to get on with solving the problem. The Society is doing its part by being actively involved in all aspects of the manufacturing workforce pipeline, including:

The SME Education Foundation (SME-EF) has started recognizing high schools that excel in manufacturing education through its PRIME (Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education) program. In 2011, six schools were selected and several more will be chosen this year.

The Foundation has also partnered with the Edge Factor, which promotes the importance of manufacturing through a different lens. For example, the Edge Factor’s Gnarly Metal video chronicles an extreme mountain biker and the significance that well-manufactured parts have on a bicycle.

Tooling U, an online learning system and SME product, has developed more than 400 courses to support the needs of both the current and future manufacturing workforce. These programs are being used by individuals and in high schools, community colleges, universities, and companies.

SME and the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) Manufacturing Institute continue to promote a skills certification system that supports the use of the Advanced Manufacturing Competency Model. The Competency Model was created by the US Department of Labor and uses credentialing through certification as the foundation for curriculum and workforce training.

This is just a small sampling of what SME is doing. Every day we are faced with questions from the media, requests for information on workforce development training, and given opportunities to discuss this critical issue with other organizations. As one of the leading societies supporting manufacturing, SME continues to address this essential component for a vital/vibrant economy. Are the workforce issues going away soon? We don’t think so! All of us must continue to support both the awareness of this topic and provide solutions to the problem. SME will do its part, but what about the rest of you? ME


 SME Education Foundation: Working Hard to Change the Face of ManufacturingBart Aslin   


By Bart Aslin
Chief Executive Officer
SME Education Foundation 

New manufacturing thrives on and drives innovation, and in the US we have a gold mine of future innovators. Right now, they are two years old and their parents are reading them bedtime stories while holding an iPad or a Kindle. By 2031, these children will be advanced manufacturing practitioners. Their ability to innovate will be predicated on their parents and teachers encouraging their creativity and imagination with a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

Today, as STEM education takes center stage, with the imperative being job creation, the SME Education Foundation has accelerated its funding for innovative education in advanced manufacturing. Manufacturing as an industry is not dying—it is being transformed. Advancements in emerging technologies began to alter our social structure as little as ten years ago with the manufacturing sector moving to being technology-intensive with higher productivity. This dynamic is changing how education is delivered and how students learn.

In 1945, America led the world in technological innovation. However, by 1979, American innovation was no longer soaring and annual increases in productivity had fallen behind most of the industrialized world. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) responded to this critical loss with a $1 million investment to create the SME Education Foundation and reversed the decline.

By 1996, the Manufacturing Education Plan took a three-prong approach: youth programs, colleges and universities and lifelong learning. The SME Education Foundation directed $1.7M to the execution of the plan.

In 1997, the SME Education Foundation provided funding for STEPS (STEM Summer) camp. The weeklong program later expanded to 16 states reaching 3,500 students.

Recognizing that the pipeline for students pursuing STEM was almost dry, the SME Education Foundation initiated funding of $5.2 million to address the transformation of manufacturing education, change public perception of manufacturing, and address the US shortage of manufacturing and technical talent. Our major focus became reaching students at an early age and directing funding to STEM-infused middle and high schools.

In 2006, the SME Education Foundation partnered with Project Lead The Way (PLTW), to re-write their STEPS curriculum to reflect PLTW’s more rigorous STEM approach to create the Gateway Academy. These students were then directed to PLTW’s Gateway to Technology (GTT), a pre-engineering program for middle-school students designed to increase the pipeline of students entering STEM coursework.

In 2008 and 2009, as student enrollment increased, the SME Education Foundation funded $815,000 to PLTW for the addition of Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) programs and/or upgrades of the CIM course at 140 PLTW high schools across the country and expanded the Gateway Academy to 300 middle schools.

In early 2011, we continued to support PLTW with $400,000 for the addition of 50 Gateway Academy schools in 19 states, and for CIM upgrades and VEX Robotic Design Systems. Another $75,000 provided VEX kits which allowed PLTW Core Training Instructors to train their CIM teachers.

The lack of jobs and lack of skilled workers continues to fuel a growing awareness of the need for STEM education. According to the Manufacturing Council, 2.7 million manufacturing employees will likely retire during the next ten years, yet only an estimated 750,000 young adults enrolled in STEM-focused educational programs in 2011, to fill the pipeline.

They further state that young people have misconceptions about manufacturing. Despite these false perceptions, manufacturing and engineering are at the core of high-tech, innovative fields like medical technology, biosciences, semiconductors and alternative energy vital to our economy. SME Education Foundation is working to expose youth to careers in manufacturing to combat the misperceptions.

In November 2011, the SME Education Foundation also developed and introduced PRIME (Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education), a community-based approach to manufacturing education. Selected schools are recognized for their exemplary manufacturing STEM-based curriculum and will become central to creating manufacturing super centers for manufacturing education. The schools are connected to local SME Chapters, and will be provided with summer internships, opportunities for job shadowing, scholarships, personal mentors and access to relevant online resources including, and

This year’s PRIME exemplary schools and SME Chapters supporting them include: Hawthorne High School of Engineering and Manufacturing (SME Los Angeles); Wheeling High School (SME Chicagoland, Chapter #5); Summit Technology Academy (SME Chapter #57); Walker Career Center (SME Chapter #37); Fairmont High School (SME Dayton, Chapter #18), and Francis Tuttle Technology Center (SME Oklahoma Student Chapter S143). New partnerships are also providing opportunities to inform the general public about how much our society depends and benefits from this industry.

Last year, the SME Education Foundation began working with Richard Yeagley, writer, director, and producer of a new documentary, "The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work," which celebrates the talents of tradesmen, the importance of STEM and hands-on learning.

In late 2011, the SME Education Foundation commissioned the production of a year-long documentary, "Changing the Face of Manufacturing".

We've also partnered with the Edge Factor, an HD series that takes an inside look at people using extreme technology to create the world around us. Jeremy Bout, Edge Factor series producer, and a former manufacturing programmer, works with his team to bridge the gap between the visual media world and that of manufacturers in this highly-entertaining series.

Stemming from the production of the Edge Factor series will be a new student engagement competition called "Reality Redesigned," as well as a series of classroom videos, "EDU Factor," which will be used to highlight the specific technologies featured in the Edge Factor series. These videos will be distributed and shown in classrooms with the support of our relationships with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), Project Lead The Way (PLTW) and the National Center for Manufacturing Education (NCME).

Our workforce development efforts have become realities because of the willingness of business, industry, education, and like-minded nonprofits and government to partner. A highly protective, competitive or vertical approach to workforce development no longer works. We highly recommend collaboration. ME


This article was first published in the January 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF


Published Date : 1/1/2012

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