The National Association of Manufacturers announced Thursday that it’s teaming up with General Electric, Caterpillar and 13 other industry giants to find solutions to the job skills gap plaguing many factories across the nation.
The association’s Task Force on Competitiveness and the Workforce will launch in January. It will be led by 15 manufacturing leaders who hope to tackle the national shortage of job candidates trained in engineering and computerized factory machinery.
The problem has escalated in Minnesota and across the country during the past 10 years as factories did away with traditional assembly workers in favor of robotic equipment and other highly computerized systems. The shift saved money and increased efficiency, but simultaneously created the need for a new set of workers, ones equipped with programming skills.
“The workforce issues facing manufacturers are no secret to employers, policymakers, or the media,” said Matt Lavoie, a spokesman for the 12,000-member association. “The most pressing [issues] are the mounting skills gap between the preparedness of workers, the capabilities manufacturers need, and the scarcity of graduates in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.”
The task force hopes to identify common problems across companies and to develop proposals that get private businesses and state and federal governments to work together to improve the pipeline of well-trained job candidates.
The association’s efforts will build upon regional efforts to solve the shortage of trained manufacturing job candidates.
In Minnesota, an increasing number of factories and associations work with local technical schools to find and train future recruits. Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, Hennepin Technical College, Anoka Technical College and others are developing curriculums that give students credit for time spent inside factories.
At the same time, Minnesota manufacturers are reaching out to peers at other companies to figure out better ways to build a pipeline of prepared workers.
Last week, aluminum fabricator Alexandria Industries hosted a leadership conference in Bloomington for 40 companies looking for information about workforce development.
Officials from Alexandria Industries, Alexandria Technical and Community College, Alexandria High School and the Minnesota National Guard coached businesses about successful training partnerships. Alexandria Industries and its partners have collaborated on training, factory internships, classroom instruction and teaching students to run highly technical manufacturing equipment.
Next week, Wright County, the Central Minnesota Manufacturers Association and the metal-cutting machinists at Jet Edge in St. Michael will host a work-skills conference to help area businesses find precision manufacturing workers. The conference will be at Jet Edge’s St. Michael headquarters and will feature experts from St. Cloud Technical College and Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services.
All such efforts can help tackle a key problem that has plagued many manufacturing plants around the state and nation, said U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
In July, Franken introduced legislation to create a Community College to Career Fund. If passed, the effort would address the skills gap by creating a multibillion-dollar grant program to fund partnerships between businesses and two-year colleges.
In the meantime, private industry is trying to do its part. If the association’s efforts bear fruit, that will go a long way to meeting the needs of modern manufacturing, Lavoie said.
The new task force will be lead by Chip Blankenship, the president and CEO of GE Appliances. Under his leadership, GE’s $5 billion division invested $1 billion in U.S. operations and training, and hired 3,000 workers since 2010.