Bridging the Manufacturing Skills Gap
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
by: AHTD

Section: Press Releases

Bridging the Manufacturing Skills Gap

By: Pamela Kan, President of Bishop-Wisecarver,

I was very interested to see a recent opinion article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) written by Brad Smith who is an Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Microsoft. The piece ran on Friday October 19, 2012 and was entitled "How to Reduce America’s Talent Deficit”.

The article caught my attention for a couple of reasons. Those of you who follow me through social media and my blog know that I am very passionate about career technical education as well as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education within the K-12 system. I have recently been appointed by Governor Brown to the California Workforce Investment Board (CWIB) and I am eager to help make a positive impact on the development of the workforce in my state of California. My attention was piqued at first due to the article being written by someone from Microsoft. Why? Because as a manufacturer of linear motion products located in the East Bay I am constantly competing for talent against the Silicon Valley. I was really shocked to read that many of my challenges in finding skilled employees are the same as those experienced by Microsoft.

Like Microsoft, we have had positions remain open for months and months. My assumption was that I was losing out on talent to the Silicon Valley, but now I see that the problem is far worse than I originally thought — it is a systemic failure of our current educational system.

How have we created such a disconnect between our educational institutions and the needs of business? I find it troubling that we are not graduating students with the skill sets that actually make them employable. As Mr. Smith writes in his article, "Thus the economy faces a paradox. Too many Americans can’t find jobs, yet too many companies can’t fill open positions.”

Mr. Smith calls for a national "Race to the Future” that would provide funding and incentives for states to:

  • Strengthen STEM in grade schools by recruiting and training teachers to the Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.
  • Broaden access to computer science in high schools. For manufacturing jobs this has to also include opportunities for hands on learning that reinforces a STEM education. Programs such as FIRST robotics need to be available in every school.
  • Help colleges and universities raise their graduation rates. I think this does not address the fact that an alarming percentage of students never even make it to a four year college. In the state of California we now experience close to a 30% drop out rate from our high schools. We need to focus on graduating students from high school before we worry about college. There also needs to be strong financial support for our community colleges and acknowledge them for their role in training our workforce with technology specific skills. Career technical education is becoming more and more advanced each day in parallel with the increase in technology and automation that is occurring in today’s manufacturing facilities.
  • Expand the capacity of our colleges to produce more STEM focused degrees.

I couldn't agree more! But one big issue that Mr. Smith is not addressing in the last bullet point is that you can only offer STEM related degrees when there are enough people interested in those programs. When being an engineer is not highly valued in our country and it is a struggle to get students to enroll in a class with the word "manufacturing" in it (see my blog from October 29, 2012), no wonder we can’t produce enough degreed and skilled workers to satisfy our industry needs.

I would love to get your feedback on this subject. I feel this is a true crisis facing our country and the state of California. As I fulfill my duties on the CWIB and as chair of the California Manufacturer’s and Technology Association (CMTA) I want to make sure I'm championing for efforts with the most direct impact on the needs of industry that will get the most people employed.


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