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