America’s manufacturing sector has a big need over the next decade. Nearly 3.5 million jobs will have to be filled, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.
There’s a frustrating obstacle, though. Most of the jobs require a high skill level, and indications at present are that manufacturers will come up short in finding enough workers with the appropriate training.
It’s not that community colleges are ignoring the need. On the contrary, many are revving up to meet the training demand. Career academies, meanwhile, are springing up to better link young people with the real-world needs of businesses.
Nebraska has examples of both those positive trends.
Metropolitan Community College’s new Center for Advanced and Emerging Technologies will train students in understanding the wide-ranging connections that now link manufacturing and information technology.
Northeast Community College in October opened its 66,000-square-foot Applied Technology Building. The center has five training laboratories in cooperation with local manufacturers.
At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford of Omaha and a California congressman have introduced legislation that would provide competitive grants to promote advanced skills training for manufacturing.
The Manufacturing Skills Act, like a counterpart measure in the Senate, would award grants for up to five states and five metropolitan areas with the strongest and most comprehensive proposals. Each winner would receive up to $10 million over a three-year period.
“Growing our economy and creating high- paying jobs are shared, bipartisan goals for all members of Congress,” Ashford said of the bill. “Closing the skills gap by providing education in key sectors such as manufacturing is essential in achieving these objectives.”
A key to progress is helping young people and their parents understand that modern manufacturing tends to be far removed from the stereotype of dingy, dreary shop floors. Skilled manufacturing is, in fact, a source of well-paying jobs.
Penny Pritzker, U.S. secretary of commerce, and Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, summed things up well when they wrote in a recent opinion essay:
“Too many people view manufacturers as outdated factories filled with line jobs — not as innovative, inventive businesses where workers develop and use the latest technology and build lasting, middle-class careers.”
Nebraska is home to a wide range of top-flight manufacturers that illustrate that claim. Here is just a small sampling: Tri-V Tool & Manufacturing, an Omaha company handling a wide array of design and manufacturing work; Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing in Lincoln; BD Medical in Columbus; steelmaker Nucor in Norfolk.
In October, Nebraska’s manufacturing sector hosted hundreds of students, giving them tours of plants and facilities in various cities. In the Omaha area, more than 300 students participated.
It’s good to see companies spread the word. There are real opportunities in manufacturing, if the next generation steps up to grab them.