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The skills gap is killing us (and US)

The skills gap in manufacturing is killing us (and US). As the landscape of manufacturing changes the skills required to be a participant in manufacturing is evolving. Joining a union with on the job training was enough for both of my grandfathers to hold steady, well paying jobs the boom times of the then, rust free rust belt.

In the tristate area region of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, towns like Youngstown, Wierton and Pittsburgh were humming with manufacturing activity. Much of the population throughout the 1970's in this region consisted of first or second generation immigrants from Europe with little to no education. If you had a pulse, you could find gainful employment in manufacturing, and learn as you go. This trend of employment is reaching the end of its run, and as the AP phrases it "'s all nostalgia".

The landscape of American manufacturing is much different today and requires new skill sets, few of which include the raw grit that was required in the steel mills and coal mines that powered the economy of Pittsburgh and other mill towns. Today, mechatronics and robotics are entering the industry at a rapid rate, making efficiency and productivity gains that were previously thought impossible. While many see the robots as job thieves (while the do take a few jobs away), one should instead view them as Robin Hood-esque thieves.

These machines are providing jobs that were previously unknown and they are one of the main reasons why manufacturing in the US can continue to keep its beacon of labor shining. We can't compete with labor rates of other rapidly developing industrial nations, so we must beat them in efficiency and productivity. Shear industrial strength is no longer dependent on which mills have the bigger forearms or the highest grit employees, it is the fastest who will win in this economy.

With that said, Made in the USA is here to stay, but it is in the midst of a struggle to find qualified employees. Do you want to hear a sobering statistic? According to a Deloitte forecast, 3.5m jobs in manufacturing will need to be fulfilled by 2025, but 57% of those jobs (that's 2m jobs) will still be on job boards as a result of the skills gap.

That's insane.

Society was upset, and still is, that we have been loosing jobs to lower-wage competitors in the global economy, and here we are again, positioned to loose. Across the country the gap is being addressed by many technical colleges. In Greenville, SC Clemson University is working with the local technical college, Greenville Tech on the newly completed Center for Manufacturing Innovation (CMI) where graduate students in Automotive Engineering are working with CMI students on mock assembly lines, PLC research and other high-tech manufacturing needs. The average salary of a graduate of a program at CMI with an associates degree is $63,936 in Greenville County. Not bad, not bad at all. If you want to add a little more education, a mechatronics engineer with a bachelor's degree can expect $97,000 / year.

While lucrative for the people that are actively looking to fill the gap, the issue is that there is not enough activity in the learning sector. If we fail to fill the gap, to encourage young minds to enter into manufacturing and the STEM fields, we can easily loose our position as the world's largest manufacturing economy.


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