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The Time is Now for Another ‘Great Generation’

Ray Dick
By Dr. Ray Dick RD Solutions LLC

It’s been more than 75 years since the “Greatest Generation” earned their title. With World War II raging, a generation of Americans rolled up their collective sleeves to step in and step up for the preservation of their beloved country.

A welder competing at a Project MFG event in Auburn, Ala. (All images provided by RD Solutions LLC)

Americans from every corner and every walk of life, ordinary people, rose to accomplish extraordinary things. With their sons and daughters heading off to fight a motivated and well-equipped enemy, our nation locked arms at home and headed to the factories.

They learned essential new skills. They joined assembly lines. They dedicated themselves to a greater cause. They built America’s “Arsenal of Democracy”—the engine that powered a great victory. Arthur Herman, an American author, would later coin the term “Freedom’s Forge” to accurately describe the effort.

Fast-forward three-quarters of a century and today’s America is faced with another threat, one that could very easily change the global economic structure. The modern version of America lacks enough people with the essential skills to produce the tools needed to protect our way of life.

With a desperate lack of skilled workers in the pipeline and looming retirements reducing our future manufacturing workforce, our nation is suspended in a dangerous balance. We cannot rely on foreign resources to fill a gap that is inherently ours to fill. We must step in and step up, again, to ensure that Freedom’s Forge and our Arsenal of Democracy are not merely historical terms, but verifiable facts.

We need another generation to assume the title of “The Greatest Generation.” We need more hands at the controls of Freedom’s Forge.

The facts surrounding this labor crisis are sobering, at best. To illustrate the current situation, The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte teamed up to take a deeper look. What they found was no mystery to industries that count on skilled professionals to deliver:

  • Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs need to be filled due to an increase in both retirements and demand for new products.
  • At our current pace, two million of those jobs will remain unfilled.
  • Eighty percent of manufacturing companies are willing to pay above-market labor rates in workforce areas reeling under the talent crisis; employers are spending more than 90 days finding and recruiting them.
  • Eighty-two percent of executives fear the skills gap will adversely impact their ability to meet consumer demand, implement new technologies, provide effective customer service, innovate, develop new products and expand internationally.

While statistics like those can be intimidating, they can also be the source for inspiration. And that’s where this story gets better.

A Project MFG competition at Louisiana State University, Lafayette, La.

“The United States has always been a country willing to do what it takes to protect and advance causes important to our protection and growth,” said Adele Ratcliff, director, Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense. “Like many other points in our history, we’re at a crossroads where action is required. Without effective intervention we’re going to find ourselves in a very difficult situation. We must be proactive in addressing the issues we currently have in our manufacturing workforce.”

Through IBAS, the U.S. Department of Defense has teamed up with prominent governmental units, industry trade organizations, manufacturers and stakeholders to address this critical issue. This collaboration of government and private industry is focused on inspiring the next generation of professional skills workers through “Project MFG Next Generation Skills Challenge,” a competition and “moment that sparks a movement” to restore America’s manufacturing prominence.

The Challenge series is designed to test skills in a highly energetic, competitive environment. Project MFG launched in April with three exciting competition stops in Auburn, Ala.; Lafayette, La.; and Meriden, Ga. At each stop, the purpose of the Challenge was to showcase necessary skills while demonstrating problem-solving abilities and the technological aptitudes necessary for success.

These Project MFG Challenge events served to illustrate the potential and capabilities of next-generation engineers, machinists, welders, programmers, and mechanics/fabricators. They demonstrated the critical skills workers need in order to maintain competence, intelligence and artistry in their jobs.

At each location, America’s future was on display with competitors vying for state championships and prize money. Competitors rose to the occasion and potential employers took notice.

“Aligning our need for skilled workers with educators, government, and manufacturers is something we’ve long needed,” said Greg Jones, vice president, Smartforce Development at AMT-The Association for Manufacturing Technology, McLean, Va. “Through Project MFG Next Generation Skills Challenge, we’re identifying the future stars in manufacturing and we look forward to putting them to work in our businesses. We’re counting on this movement to fill the pipeline and position us for the growth everyone wants, and frankly, what our country requires.”

Even more exciting, Project MFG is just getting started. Multiple events across nearly two-dozen venues are being planned through the remainder of 2019 and into 2020. Organizers envision Project MFG regional competitions as the precursor to something much bigger: a national competition at IMTS, to be held Sept. 14-19, 2020, at McCormick Place in Chicago. Consider it a “winner-take-all” event enabling career paths rich in professional skills.

But who really wins when skilled professionals are being developed, competing and seeing for themselves the importance and value of perfecting their craft? The answer to that question is found on multiple levels:

  • A new generation of skilled professionals finds significant opportunities in terms of jobs, compensation and the ability to make a difference.
  • U.S. manufacturing reverses a dangerous trend and finds a clear path to restoring America’s position as the global manufacturing leader.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense community shores up a gap, fulfilling current requirements and anticipating future needs.
  • The global community, countries that have historically looked to the U.S. for innovation, leadership and protection, would now have fully capable resources ready to respond to evolving situations.

Project MFG represents a familiar “call to arms” to manufacturers and the United States as a whole. It’s been awhile, but in the 1940s America heard a similar call, one our forefathers answered clearly, boldly and with one voice. Their response led them to be called “The Greatest Generation.”

With another crisis rapidly approaching, it’s our turn.

Editor’s Note: For more information about Project MFG, please visit

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