U.S. Manufacturing Needs More Tech-Savvy Workers

Ann All

The U.S. frets about losing manufacturing jobs to China -- and with justification. A recent Economic Policy Institute study indicates that its uneven trade balance with China cost the U.S. 2.3 million jobs and $19.4 billion in lost wages between 2001 and 2007.


Some experts have suggested that U.S. manufacturers could offset China's low-cost advantage by shifting to more sophisticated processes that employ advanced automation rather than manual labor.


Great idea, but there's a snag: a lack of workers with the skills needed to operate such systems. Tech providers are stepping up outreach and training programs in an effort to attract young workers, according to a Food Engineering article. Potential hires remain largely unaware of such opportunities because media coverage tends to focus on lost jobs and on staff shortages in engineering. Says Fred Vetter, VP of manufacturing at Oregon Freeze Dry (OFD) Inc.:

To be successful, every engineer needs at least 12 good technicians behind him.

Vetter helped organize an engineering internship program at Oregon State University that, over the last 25 years, has helped produce hundreds of engineers now working in manufacturing throughout the Pacific Northwest. Such programs are increasing, along with on-site training programs provided by vendors like Mettler-Toledo, which makes in-line QA sensors used to measure turbidity, dissolved oxygen and other variables in fluids such as beer.


But the industry shouldn't focus on machine-specific training, warn experts, who say that workers need multi-disciplinary training that would prepare them to use a variety of new automation-driven technologies. The article mentions several such programs being offered by community colleges around the country. I wrote about the growing trend of companies partnering with community colleges earlier this month.


Says Fred Haynes, dean of the engineering and industrial technology department at Oregon's Linn-Benton Community College:

You really need to get in front of the younger students and their parents to make them understand the complexity of today's manufacturing environment and the availability of family-supporting wages for skilled workers.

The article helpfully includes contact information for Haynes and representatives of other companies and community colleges that are working to address the worker shortage.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 19, 2008 10:45 AM claudinette claudinette  says:
I graduated from UMASS Boston 10 years ago, had a job in IT, company merge, now just work to pay my bills. I love working in IS/IT environment but industry is target is young and male. I'm over 40 years and female. what is my chance to get a good job in IS/IT. Why company go outside US to create jobs for other people , when US citizen can't get jobs in their field. this is a big game , once lost there not way to win back your place in work place environment. this is just a waist of knowledge because company is looking at what is good for them to make the next big box, not what one can offer as a long term asset for the company and also for the contribution in the country.thanks!cjob Reply
Oct 6, 2008 4:41 PM antonio nardi antonio nardi  says:
i'm a jeweler whit 33 yers of experiance i lost my jobbecause of the economy. let me know what can i possibly do on manifactory. i'm a good hard worker. Reply
Oct 23, 2008 11:16 AM Chris Chris  says:
See now this is a funny article written by someone who is not in the manufacturing industry. I am. I am also 'tech-savy' as she claims more of my ilk need to be. I have also watched the workforce at my jobsite reduced by aproximately one quarter about 6 months ago. Almost everyone of them a good worker in my opinion. It wasn't a matter of not being savy enough, it was a matter of profits. The corporation I work for has mfg. locations in all the hot technology spots. China, Japan, pacific rim islands. There are even 2 plants in Italy to serve western europe. Well guess which plant just received an entire production line taken from MY jobsite, transported and reassembled by several of my coworkers who were then dismissed? The answer does not lie wholly with a new training program, several of those people had over 15 years experience maintaining the equipment that makes technology possible, there needs to be an economic reason to retain these jobs here in the USA. The safeguards established by the Fair Trade Act are no longer enough to discourage corporations today when they receive a tax break from the same government for stimulating a third world countries technology base. Perhaps if the same government invested considerably more in those it is purportedly governing and ceased some of the overseas incentives, America could once again regain it's technological initiative in something more prestigious and demanding than video games. Reply
Nov 22, 2008 1:28 PM Kathy Kathy  says:
I agree wth Chris on October 23. The writer of this article is full of crap. My husband worked at a highly technical company for 18 years beginning in 1987. While he worked there he went to school and got an Associates in Electronics, he went back again and got certified in HVAC, he went back again and got his BS in Organizational Management, he went further and go a Master Electrician license. In 2005 his company, that had been in our town since 1964 shut it's doors and transferred their operations to both Mexico and China.We moved to Mississippi where he got ANOTHER job in manufacturing and that company closed their doors and transferred the work to, yes, China. We now live and work in KUWAIT! Why? Because he cannot find a job in the US that pays more than $17 per hour. I know you think the $17 should be good, but he is almost 50 years old and we have a mortgage and need to save for retirement...not that that matters now that our 401K is dwindling. I work in IT customer support and I, too, have had difficulty finding a job that makes all the years of college and work experience worth it. At least here we don't have to pay income taxes on the $20 an hour we make. However, with the recent election and a liberal congress and white house, that incentive will probably be taken away too. No, your "theory" that American needs more skilled workers is grossly WRONG! We need the GOOD jobs to stay in the US and companies need STRONG incentive to KEEP the jobs in the US. Reply
Feb 2, 2009 11:36 AM Janet Johnson Janet Johnson  says: in response to Kathy

Yes, you are right.  Tech savvy workers need more american job openings where you don't have to fear making less that a house keeper; who probably makes more  money than any tech  job pays right now.

Very sad!


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