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How American Manufacturers Are Working to Close the ‘Skills Gap’

American manufacturers are leading an innovation revolution, transforming the products we make and how we make them. Boasting the globe’s most productive workforce, abundant energy and unparalleled technical capabilities, our country is poised to advance the promise of manufacturing in America. Companies are creating jobs in the United States, and foreign enterprises are investing at record levels. The manufacturing economy is $2 trillion strong and supports about one in six American jobs.

The entire world wants the products of manufacturing in the United States, from internet-connected electronics to lifesaving pharmaceuticals. The only missing piece—the next generation of skilled workers who will take up the mantle of manufacturing and transform the future.

Over the next decade, 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled. Even as our nation strives to get people back to work, a lack of trained workers—often those with trade and technical skills—leaves most manufacturing companies scrambling for talent.

This “skills gap” is a drag on the economy. A shortage of trained employees can slow the growth of our businesses and therefore our economy.

Related: 5 Things Every American Needs to Know About the Future of Work

Opportunity Lost

America is failing our youth if we do not equip them with the skills required for innovative manufacturing. Manufacturing careers pay about $15,000 more than the rest of the private sector, and manufacturing can provide job security and upward mobility like no other industry.

This is good news for working families, at a time when some have lost faith in the American dream, and are questioning our very system of free enterprise.

But we should not give up; we should not lose hope. Strategic investment in education and training will carry us toward our goal.

Related: How the ‘Opportunity Divide’ Threatens America’s Economic Future

The United States can empower individuals to seize a brighter future in manufacturing by:

  • Overcoming industry stereotypes that prevent many people from viewing manufacturing as an attractive career option;
  • Enhancing education in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and math;
  • Establishing apprenticeships and on-the-job training to allow employees to earn a paycheck while they grow their skills; and
  • Streamlining credentialing programs and ensuring that real-life experience counts.

Manufacturers are engaged on all fronts—to be the solution. We’re partnering with educators and community leaders on training initiatives. We’re promoting annually Manufacturing Day, when manufacturers open their doors to students. We’re working with government officials to devise policy solutions—and to bring the country together after a divisive presidential election. (In the video at the top of this article—part three of WorkingNation’s series FutureWork—Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple looks at the work of one of the world’s leading auto manufacturers to recreate secondary schooling in Georgetown, Kentucky, from the ground up with a goal of creating the perfect employees for their specialized needs.)

Now we need America’s help. We must work together to remain true to our nation’s heritage of striving toward opportunity for all.

Jay Timmons is president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the largest manufacturing association in the United States.