Business

Manufacturing Industry Sees Lack of Skilled Workers

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The National Association of Manufacturers has released a report urging states and private employers to spend more on both education and training programs. Many U.S. manufacturers say they have a hard time finding workers with the right skills.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Mike O'Rourke of the United Auto Workers told us he wonders if anybody will be able to find good manufacturing jobs in the future, but some manufacturers say they are desperate for certain kinds of workers, people with a decent education and a good set of skills. NPR's Adam Davidson reports on how the lack of qualified manufacturing workers may be one of the greatest threats to US competitiveness in a global market.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

The National Association of Manufacturers is sounding an alarm. They say that American workers don't have enough of the right skills, and if the whole country doesn't get together to solve the problem, the US will lose its place as one of the most competitive economies in the world. Jerry Jasinowski is the president of NAM's Manufacturing Institute.

Mr. JERRY JASINOWSKI (President, NAM's Manufacturing Institute): We don't value human capital quite as much as we should, given this new global environment.

DAVIDSON: Manufacturers say there are just too many workers and applicants who don't have basic math and reading skills, and they also need more workers with higher-end skills like engineering and applied science. So NAM wants the government, schools and employers to all work together. K through 12 schools should do better. High school grads should have easy access to government-funded technical training programs, and employers should spend a lot more for on-the-job training. He says employers are already doing at least part of their share by paying good wages.

Mr. JASINOWSKI: Wages are quite high in manufacturing. They're not going down. Where we're not investing enough is in human capital development.

DAVIDSON: Michael Handel of Northeastern University says Jasinowski is wrong to suggest wages are high enough. If employers say there aren't enough good workers, then they should pay more, and more good people will start working for manufacturers. It's not a new problem, he says.

Mr. MICHAEL HANDEL (Northeastern University): I can show you a book written in 1984 that talked about the shortage of machinists for the previous 10 years.

DAVIDSON: Since 1984, the US has become far more tied to the global economy. US workers are not just competing with each other but with laborers in China, Mexico and around the globe. Millions of relatively low-skilled manufacturing jobs have been lost. Jasinowski is concerned that increasingly, it's high-skilled jobs that will be at stake.

Mr. JASINOWSKI: No one is safe from foreign competition unless they tool up and invest in the kind of capital they need to.

DAVIDSON: The NAM report carries with it a carrot as well as a stick. If US workers do attain the right skills, it says, the US can remain the world's economic powerhouse.

Adam Davidson, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Manufactured here in the US, this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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