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CPBJ Extra Blog

Cooperation key to manufacturing success

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I don't normally pay much attention to press releases sent by politicians. Call it an aversion to self-serving pablum.

However, my eye caught something recently by happenstance: a report engineered by former governors Haley Barbour and Evan Bayh. OK, you got my attention.

Barbour, of course, is the prototypical Southern Republican from Mississippi, while Bayh is a Northern, New-Age Democrat from Indiana. Although Bayh governed as a conservative Democrat, these men clearly are not caucusing under the same tent.

So I read on. It helped that the govs co-chaired a commission of specific interest to me: a panel at the University of Virginia Miller Center on how best to create U.S. manufacturing jobs.

The commission issued its “Building a Nation of Makers” report in June. I was floored by the great ideas contained within and, particularly, how they address the issues manufacturers tell me when I visit area plants.

Here are the commission’s six ideas:

1. Talent investment loans to expand human capital. Government-backed talent investment loans would give employers the capital to hire the workers necessary to expand their businesses, as well as to up-skill these new and current employees.

2. Upside-down degrees to connect classroom learning with on-the-job learning. Upside-down programs allow students to transfer accredited technical training, work experience, military training, or community college coursework as credit toward a bachelor’s degree.

3. A skills census to build a more efficient skilled labor force. A regular survey of employers to determine current and projected skills needs – commissioned by state governments, with data freely available to the public – would allow businesses, policymakers and educators to tailor their programs in real time to forestall projected imbalances between skills and employer needs.

4. A national supply chain initiative to fully map America’s manufacturing ecosystems. This would allow businesses and policymakers to cost-effectively fill gaps in the existing infrastructure and keep up with rapid changes around emerging technologies.

5. Up-skilling high school students with expanded technology and engineering certification programs. All students should have the opportunity to acquire a certified technical skill before graduating from high school.

6. A “big trends-small firms” initiative to diffuse the latest technologies to manufacturers. This initiative, implemented through the Commerce Department’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, would connect small and medium-size manufacturers with the latest innovations.

Most of the ideas deal with skills and training. These are complaints I hear nearly every time I visit an area manufacturing facility. Last month, Volvo CE Americas President Göran Lindgren told me the Shippensburg-area facility is “facing some challenges to bring in people here” with the appropriate skills.

When I visited Barry Bowman, president of Flight Systems Industrial Products in North Middleton Township, on July 3, he said it sometimes takes his company up to two years to train workers to manufacture and test its controls. And that includes students who graduate from area IT schools, he added.

So the answer seems very clear. Schools need to respond and adapt to what the marketplace requires. This is something that seemingly is happening at a faster rate in other fields.

For example, Shippensburg University responded to feedback from high school educators by offering a new dual certification program in pre-K to fourth grade and special education pre-K to eighth grade.

It needs to happen more frequently in manufacturing for the U.S. to regain its place as a producer. In a statement from UVA, Barbour and Bayh said the main goal is producing quality employees so American manufacturing can grow, prosper and provide more jobs, higher pay and better benefits in a more competitive economy.

Gold star to the govs for putting politics aside to produce a worthwhile report. If that bipartisanship could continue, it might actually yield action that could help pull manufacturing out of the doldrums.

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