Manufacturing leader: “Skills gap is a drag on the economy.” Everett Herald finds “good news ” in Roundtable study.

Providing America’s youth with the training and education required for today’s economy must be a national priority, writes National Association of Manufacturers president Jay Timmons in a commentary in Fortune magazine.

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.

The demand is there, he emphasizes.

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.

His words echo the findings of a recent Washington Roundtable-Boston Consulting Group report identifying 740,000 projected new job openings in our state over the next five years. Most of those jobs will go to workers with postsecondary credentials or some college. 

In an excellent editorial, the Everett Herald editorial says there’s “good news for students” in the Roundtable report. But to realize the opportunities, the state must step up in postsecondary attainment.

Currently, only 31 percent of students are expected by age 26 to earn the post-secondary credentials they need for pathway and career positions, based on the Roundtable’s analysis of data from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. That, of course, includes four-year college degrees, but it also includes classroom training, certification programs and apprenticeships lasting from a few months to two years.

Employers can always hire from out of state, but the preference, [Washington Roundtable president Steve] Mullin said, is to hire those who grow up here.

The goal for the Roundtable’s Washington Kids for Washington Jobs campaign is to increase the percentage of students with post-secondary credentials to 70 percent by 2030. That’s not an arbitrary number, but one that would meet the expected demand for prepared workers.

Timmons continues,

America is failing our youth if we do not equip them with the skills required for innovative manufacturing.

We recently wrote of the skills gap.

… in our region, the skills gap represents a significant problem, one that will and must be addressed…

And we echo Timmons’s recommendations, which reflect priorities identified in our foundation report:

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.

There are outstanding opportunities awaiting students across this country, a large of of them in our state. Now is the time to be working to make sure that, as Mullin says, those who grow up here are prepared to take their place in Washington’s vibrant economy.