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By APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi CSCP, CPA, CAE | 0 | 0 | September 14, 2012

Abe Eshkenazi Photo

APICS CEO
Abe Eshkenazi

CSCP, CPA, CAE

The workforce and the manufacturing skills gap are two subjects often at the top of my thoughts. Today, many companies report they have trouble finding enough skilled workers to perform the highly technical tasks needed to produce today’s increasingly complex products. This affects not only those on the shop floor, but supply chain and operations managers__from master planners to purchasers to sales and operations planners. These functions all depend on attaining optimum flow of material through the facility to generate throughput, a task made more difficult when there aren’t enough skilled workers on the shop floor.

Issues with fostering talent are not exclusive to the United States. The European Commission, as part of its Europe 2020 initiative, has outlined a New Skills for New Jobs initiative, a set of measures to better anticipate the needs of future skills, enhance the relationship between skills and the needs of the labor market, and bridge together the education and work spheres. The Europe 2020 strategy ultimately seeks to improve opportunities for Europeans, resulting in less overall unemployment and fewer dropouts. It’s a commendable goal, and hopefully the European leaders find success in their efforts to provide work and workers to the people and industries that need them.

The United States faces its own set of challenges, however. We currently are in the middle of a heated election cycle, with the two major party candidates working overtime to prove their worth to the American people. The last couple of weeks have seen both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, which served as an opportunity for each party to present its case for election. For supply chain and operations management professionals, the conventions provided a chance to evaluate speeches and party platforms through the lens of workforce development. This gives us a glimpse of what we might expect in 2013 and beyond.

President Obama, after entering office in the middle of one of the biggest recessions in history, has devoted a lot of attention to workforce development throughout his term. The Democrats appear to be staying the course in this regard. They emphasize the importance of community colleges, with the goal of building partnerships between businesses and schools to match up two million future workers with jobs. The President also wants to reward “companies that open new plants, train new workers, and create new jobs here.” Obama says he believes that encouraging this behavior instead of offering tax breaks to companies that move jobs overseas will result in 1 million “new manufacturing jobs in the next four years” on top of the 500,000 objective since he took office in 2009.

Much of Mitt Romney’s platform, on the other hand, rests on the assertion that the United States is worse off than it was four years ago. On the workforce development front, Romney has outlined a five-point plan to create 12 million new jobs. This includes enabling American energy independence, engaging in trade agreements with other nations, and supporting small businesses, which Romney says are the engines of job growth. Fostering talent is also part of this plan, although Romney only emphasizes childhood education as one of the means to bridge the talent gap. Meanwhile, the Republican party platform stresses the importance of shifting training programs from federal oversight to the states, to enable them to better coordinate efforts between local schools and employers.

It is difficult to say which candidate has a better plan for improving the American workforce and bridging the manufacturing talent gap. Nevertheless, this remains a deeply important issue, especially here at APICS. This October 14–16, at the 2012 APICS International Conference & Expo, in Denver, Colorado, I will moderate a panel discussion on workforce development. The panel will consist of representatives from leading multinational companies who focus on employees as key assets, including Ingersoll Rand and Northrup Grumman. We will examine the challenges these companies face in talent development, including questions about college and university recruitment, professional development programs and internships, and what these industry leaders expect in the years to come. Please join me in Denver for this thought-provoking discussion.

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7 Comments

  1. 1 Thomas (Brad) Hohenstein MBA, C.P.M., CPIM, CSCP 29 Sep

    Hello Mr. Eshkanazi,

    I agree with Barry completely.  I believe that smaller government is the key to getting the US back on track.  In addition, the idea of QE3 that Obama backs is going to devalue the dollar even further.  How does increasing the national debt by $6 trillion dollars in under 4 years improve the economy?  How does increasing taxes on small business stimulate economic growth?  These ideas are detrimental to the US economy and another 4 years of the same will bankrupt America!  Do we want to go down the path that Greece has?  Or Spain for that matter?  Let's explore some facts regarding the incumbent entering office in the middle of one of the biggest recessions in history. 

    Do you remember January 3, 2007?

    Remember that on October 9, 2007, 11 months before our “economic Crisis” occurred (that was actually created), the Dow hit its highest point ever, closing at 14,164.53 and reaching 14,198.10 intra-day Level 2 days later. Unemployment was steady at 4.7%. But things were already being put in place to create the havoc we’ve all been experiencing since then. And it all started on January 3, 2007 which was the day the Democrats took over was the House of Representatives and the Senate, at the very start of the 110th Congress. The Democrat Party controlled a majority in both chambers for the first time since the end of the 103rd Congress in 1995.

    For those who are listening to the liberals propagating the fallacy
     that everything is "Bush's Fault", think about this: January 3rd, 2007 was the day the Democrats took over the Senate and the Congress.

    At the time:
    The DOW Jones closed at 12,621.77
    The GDP for the previous quarter was 3.5%
    The Unemployment rate was 4.6%
    George Bush's Economic policies SET A RECORD of 52 STRAIGHT MONTHS of JOB GROWTH

    Remember the day...
    January 3rd, 2007 was the day that Barney Frank took over the House
     Financial Services Committee and Chris Dodd took over the Senate
    Banking Committee. The economic meltdown that happened 15 months later was in what part of the economy? BANKING AND FINANCIAL SERVICES!

    Unemployment... To this CRISIS by (among MANY other things) dumping
     5-6 TRILLION Dollars of toxic loans on the economy from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fiascoes!

    Bush asked Congress 17 TIMES to stop Fannie & Freddie - starting in
     2001 because it was financially risky for the

  2. 2 Barry Thistlethwaite 18 Sep

    I stongly disagree, Paul. A vote for any third party, including the Constitution or Libertarian parties, is a vote for the status quo. A third party must start locally and grow a base of candidates in local elections and primaries before it is credible fielding a Presidential candidate. Neither Virgil Goode, Jr. nor Gary Johnson is credible. Their presence will reduce the possibility of defeating the incumbent. Libertarians and Constitution Party members should get behind the one credible candidate against Obama, or risk supporting the party and the big government/Statist philosophy they most strongly oppose. 

    I agree with Hank, but he's only partially correct: voting Republican in order to achieve smaller government is just the start. As proven under the Bush presidency, we will have to very actively monitor those we elect to be sure they attack the spending problems, including addressing entitlements. This election is critical, but it's just step one back toward a constitutional government. 

    As to the article above, federal government should not be involved in local education, 'partnering' in community colleges, or any other such activity. It should get out of the way and let the free market work, and let local and state governments compete to create the educational opportunities they need in their jurisdictions. We are not Europe, and I believe that most citizens still do not want the United States to be a socialist state. 

  3. 3 Jennifer Proctor 18 Sep


    In this Slate article, Matthew Yglesias suggests that the fast food industry should be considered manufacturing. http://hive.slate.com/hive/made-america-how-reinvent-american-manufacturing/article/americas-food-factories

    With that in mind, can we look to places like McDonald's or Chipotle as a resource for trained workers who have potential in supply chain and operations management fields? What special skills might they bring to the job? 

  4. 4 Michael Zajac 18 Sep

    I feel that the government can have a positive influence on the jobs market by providing funding for training and education and continuing to provide research grants and tax breaks for research expenses. Anything beyond that puts control into the wrong hands. The market itself needs to determine what will be produced and purchased and where technology will lead.

    As far as the presidents policy of rewarding companies creating job opportunities here in the US and denying tax breaks to companies with oversees employees; these are usually the same companies! Growth in a global economy often means increases in manufacturing foot prints both here and abroad. How do you both help and hinder the same entity? It sounds good in a speak but in practice may be too complicated to ever be realized.

  5. 5 Lee 18 Sep
    A college education is not the answer.  We need people skilled in specific skills and trades.  A liberal arts education is mostly a waste of money that burdens the individual and the government with more debt.  We need trained  people with hand skills-  building things, plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, etc.  College is good for  lawyers, engineers, accountants, dentists, pharmacists, teachers, managers, etc but it is a waste of time and money for the other potential workers who could be learning specific skills and trades.
  6. 6 Hank 17 Sep

    If the past performance of large governmental programs is any indication of how successful government can be in making significant positive improvements I believe it would be a mistake to expect government to fix the talent issues we have in the US.

    Larger government is not part of the solution in developing talent and adding good paying manufacturing jobs in the US, it is part of the problem.  The US national government needs to get out of the way and allow local and state governments build an environment where business can be successful.

    Forget everything else that both sides are saying and remember that the underlying difference between the Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats believe in larger government and Republicans believe in smaller government.  If you believe in big governments then vote Democratic, if not vote Republican.  The choice is really as easy as that.


  7. 7 Paul Chadwick 17 Sep
    Don't overlook our third option in this election:  The Constitution Party.  As America's largest Independent party, you should include them in your analysis.

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