Manufacturers’ task force aims to close ‘skills gap’

McClatchy Washington BureauOctober 3, 2013 

— The National Association of Manufacturers on Thursday announced that GE Appliances President and CEO Chip Blankenship will chair a group of executives who will try to find solutions to what businesses nationwide say is a shortage of trained workers.

Companies and community colleges in many parts of the country have teamed up to provide the kind of training needed, but Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the manufacturers group, said no state has solved the problem.

Everywhere he goes on business around the country, Timmons said, manufacturing executives say one of their top problems is a shortage of workers to hire. They also expect the problem to get much worse in the next 15 years because the average age of their workforce usually is about 48 to 52, and many will soon be nearing retirement, Timmons said.

“You get very concerned about how are you going to meet the demand that you have to have folks on the job who can do the job, not only for the competitiveness of your company, but also for the competitiveness of this country,” he said Thursday, shortly before the association announced its new Task Force on Competitiveness and the Workforce.

The task force, Timmons said, will examine how to spread ideas that are working, figure out the “areas we’re missing,” and improve partnerships with the government, schools and other organizations. It also will look for ways to encourage more students to get degrees in math, science, engineering and technology, and to inspire them to look for jobs in manufacturing.

“Manufacturing today is very technology-driven,” Timmons said.

If today’s tech-savvy young people get inspired to create the robots and other technology that manufacturers will use in the future, “they could be the saviors of our nation’s economy.”

On Friday, about 800 companies around the nation are holding a second annual “Manufacturing Day,” opening their doors to tours for high school students and others to give them an idea of what it would be like to work in the field.

“Our workforce is, and should remain, our competitive advantage,” Blankenship said in a statement. “Training and education are important values to GE and continue to be a priority investment for our growth and competitiveness. As we connect with fellow manufacturers, we have learned that we share a similar commitment to shrinking the skills gap.”

Others on the task force will be senior executives of Bison Gear and Engineering Corp., Kennametal Inc., Eli Lilly and Co., Alcoa Inc., SUMCO Phoenix Corp., Click Bond Inc., Stanley Black & Decker Inc., Rockwell Automation Inc., Snap-on Inc., HUSCO International Inc., Neenah Enterprises Inc., Tenneco Inc., Quality Float Works Inc., Southern Co. and BASF Corp.

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