LeanShoring™ – Creating Demand for New-Collar Graduates

The United States is facing a critical workforce challenge in filling jobs that require career-ready graduates with a high school diploma, postsecondary certificate, or an associate degree. Jobs requiring these “middle skills” outnumber the adults in the workforce who possess them, and this gap presents a barrier to economic competitiveness in a post-pandemic economy.

Businesses are now rethinking offshoring decisions in favor of reshoring or nearshoring. Companies are adopting LeanShoring™ practices to reduce domestic manufacturing costs by eliminating waste in their current processes, i.e. anything that does not provide value to the end customer. At the same time they are driving an enterprise wide continuous improvement process to incrementally improve production processes while eliminating risk.

LeanShoring™ and skilled workforce are critical to reshoring. LeanShoring™ efforts can produce an additional 10% cost savings, boosting U.S. competitiveness but the skills gap can be a major barrier. “Thirty to forty percent of what is now offshored can be competitively returned to domestic operations,” says Harry Moser founder and CEO of the Reshoring Initiative®. Moser estimates that would require 5 million new manufacturing workers, a 40% increase in the number of skilled and career-ready workers.

Skilled & Career-ready Workers

Manufacturers who want to onshore production operations complain they cannot find enough skilled workers in the U.S. for their advanced manufacturing “SMART” factories. Businesses need more graduates with the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills at all levels to remain competitive. The US is now discovering the demise of vocational education and educational basics at the high school level that has bred a skills shortage and a lack of technical college and career-ready graduates. Looking at the 2019 ACT test results, taken by more than 1.78 million graduates – 52% of the US high school graduating class, 37% met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. Thirty six percent met none of the benchmarks.

Students are encouraged to go to college to get ahead but only a small percentage of high school graduates are even prepared to enter college. Furthermore, soaring nationwide college tuition costs and time constraints indicate that many Americans do not have the time or money to earn a college degree. While some of the new-collar jobs require a college education, most are "middle skill" jobs requiring a high school diploma, a foundation of math and science along with some additional training acquired through apprenticeship and/or credentialing programs.

However, that does not mean job prospects are diminished. Increasingly, there are many companies offering well-paying jobs to those with non-traditional education/training or a high-school diploma. For example, Google and Apple recently announced they would no longer require a degree.

Now, employers and educational leaders are reevaluating the need for Career Technical Education (CTE) as an educational strategy that equips learners with the academic and technical skills they need to be prepared for future careers. Today’s CTE delivers real options for college and rewarding careers, helps learners build real-world skills and enhances the high school and college experience. CTE is having a positive effect on graduation rates where 95% of CTE students graduate high school 10% higher than the national average. Seventy eight percent of CTE graduates enroll in post-secondary education full-time.

To help students take advantage of these opportunities, the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) is releasing a certified production technician 4.0 certification. Based on extensive research in 2019 with a select committee, MSSC has chosen nine emerging 4.0 technologies it believes will profoundly influence manufacturing and quality control processes: 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous robots, additive (3D), data analytics, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), augmented reality, nanomanufacturing and advanced materials.

Most companies want to be led by individuals with bachelor’s or advanced degrees. However, some employers who hire recent college graduates find them lacking in skills like written and oral communication, adaptability and problem solving. Employers also report that they look at internship and job experience more closely than college performance.

Contrary to what many parents believe, students who get job specific skills in high school and choose vocational careers often go on to get additional education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has designated 99 occupations as requiring some postsecondary education less than a bachelor’s degree. With an associate degree or a postsecondary nondegree award, such as a certificate or an apprenticeship these graduates can earn $55,000 or more.

New-Collar Graduates

As advanced manufacturing jobs return home, new factories need to be built, robots need to be programmed, and new infrastructure needs to be developed. Advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive technologies, and robotics are upending time-honored assumptions about jobs, careers, the role of technology in the workplace, and how the work gets done.

For decades, the theory has been that top students get into the best universities and land white-collar jobs while the rest are forced to endure, at best, a vocational program at a community college where they will secure blue-collar roles. But over the years, the dividing line between these two collars has grown frayed and it is about time we move to a new-collar worker philosophy where skills not the degree matter. To adapt to these changes, industry must invest in multigenerational employee retention and reskilling programs to strengthen and elevate in-house teams.

To support these career alternatives, President Trump has asked companies to commit to expanding programs that educate, train, and re-skill American workers of all ages by signing the Pledge to America’s Workers. The White House workforce development program focuses on vocational job training and apprenticeships as an alternative to the “default setting” of a four-year college degree route.

Eighty-four percent of manufacturing executives agree the nation is now facing a skills gap crisis. Once this country loses its ability to make and build things, we will have lost what made America great! Reshoring Initiative® President, Harry Moser explained, “a strong skilled workforce is key to LeanShoring™ and domestic advanced manufacturing growth.”

Glenn Marshall, Newport News Shipbuilding Career Pathways (retired), member of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Management Team initiative for leading a “Manufacturing Renaissance” and the Jobs Creators Network. For more information: marsh8279@aol.com or go to www.ame.org

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