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ReBuilding and Reshoring: Skilled Workforce, the First Priority - Part 2

Category: Supply Chain By: Harry Moser, Founder, Reshoring Initiative Oct 25, 2021

In part one of this two-part series, we studied the manufacturing workforce skills gap and its impact on U.S. society, competitiveness, and the economy. In part two, we examine training investments and recommend solutions to develop a properly skilled U.S. manufacturing workforce that will enable the global cost competitiveness, expansion, reshoring, and growth needed for a robust U.S. economy. The goal is recruitment and training that properly align skills to industry needs and a talent pipeline that remains abundant and adaptable to new technologies.

Training Investments
Several companies have made significant investments in training. In February 2021, BMW broke ground on a 67,000-square-foot training center in South Carolina with a $20 million investment, as part of the company’s $200 million five-year workforce training initiative. The new training center will replace its existing training center and house BMW’s apprentice, recruiting, and hiring programs. In a press release, Paul Sinaian, talent management and training manager, says, “Training robots identical to those inside the BMW plant will be placed on moveable pallets so they can be relocated depending on the learning situation.”

Knudt Flor, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing, comments, “The most important investment for BMW is our people. The rapid pace of digitalization, electrification, artificial intelligence, and autonomous driving is transforming the automotive industry. Advancing the skills of our workforce is a priority for BMW. This training center will offer a learning environment that promotes creativity, fosters innovation, and improves technical training skills.”

In February 2021, FANUC America, provider of CNC systems, robotics and factory automation, formed a coalition with Rockwell Automation, provider of industrial automation and digital transformation, to address the manufacturing skills gap with robotics and automation apprenticeship programs that offer opportunities to gain credentials.

“Our number one goal is to help create a worker pipeline that will not only help people increase their skills and future earning potential, but to help manufacturers achieve their production goals and maintain a thriving economy,” says Paul Aiello, director of education at FANUC America. “As industry adopts new technologies, it is vital to be able to quickly adapt with a well-trained workforce,” said Michael Cook, director in the Global Academic Organization at Rockwell Automation.

A customer, Heidi Koedam, manager of the Engineering Learning Organization at Dana Incorporated, notes that, “Automation is imperative to a competitive U.S. manufacturing base. To meet our demand in automation expansion, we will need skilled candidates to fill high-demand and technically driven positions like robot operator, robot technician, and integrated systems specialist.”

Training via New Technologies
Rockford, Illinois-based manufacturer PBC Linear found that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the skilled labor shortage. “The biggest problem was finding new people and getting them up to speed fast enough and then keeping them,” says Beau Wileman, a design engineer at PBC Linear. “It’s inefficient and expensive to have a manager step away from whatever he or she was doing and train.” Wileman turned to augmented reality to reduce training time and manager supervision during training. “We have since refined the process to where 70% of training occurs through the headset,” said Wileman.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is partnering with Youngstown State University to advance workforce development for the battery manufacturing industry. The $1 million project will develop an Energy Storage Workforce Innovation Center to train the clean energy workforce in Northeast Ohio. The project is part of an effort to accelerate innovation and develop a skilled workforce.

President Biden’s Manufacturing Plan
The Reshoring Initiative has reviewed President Biden’s manufacturing proposal for accelerating reshoring. The Reshoring Initiative agrees with the $50 billion plan for apprenticeship and other training programs. Most of the dollars should be in the form of apprenticeship grants or loans, not more studies or coverage of overhead. The training should prioritize the manufacturing skills that the country needs more than the skills that trainees want to acquire.


Educational leaders and government should collaborate to create a strong K-12 education focused on math and science, and offer “professional programs in all high schools. Educators should coordinate with businesses to generate internships for students at approximately age 16. Guidance counseling should focus on career planning. College, the current objective of counseling, should be presented as one of many possible routes to the planned career. High schools could recruit retired business- and tradespeople who have had varied careers to participate in career counseling.

Educational leaders should encourage STEM studies and programs that prepare young people for advanced manufacturing careers that require high-tech skills, such as programming, engineering, and digital competencies. Educators should work closely with local manufacturers to develop needed skills. The U.S. government should shift promotional efforts and resources from producing liberal arts graduates (consistently about 35% of all university graduates hold jobs that do not require a university degree) to apprenticeships and engineers.

Workforce Development
New technologies including automation, robotics, advanced manufacturing, and artificial intelligence, i.e. the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, help developed countries like the United States reduce the labor hours required to produce goods and shift jobs toward higher skilled workers. Availability of a skilled workforce is critical for industry retention and expansion. The workforce must have the skillsets to operate, maintain, and repair the automated equipment that will power new production processes.

The primary opportunity is through skilled workforce recruitment and training. Germany has wage rates similar to ours but has a trade surplus around 6% of GDP vs. our 3% deficit. The major difference is Germany’s skilled workforce’s size, quality, and training.

Apprenticeships and entrepreneurial opportunities
An apprenticeship is an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce, and individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, and a portable, nationally recognized credential.

Figure 1 shows that 63% of the owners of contract manufacturing machine shops were apprentice graduates or had other skills training. Readers can use this data to show students and guidance counselors that manufacturing is once again a great career. Universities should make it easy to for apprentice graduates to get an engineering or business bachelor’s degree.

Figure 1

Recruitment: Quantity and Quality
We need to recruit more above-average high school students and convince smart high school students to choose apprenticeships instead of university, especially liberal arts degrees. See my article Rebuilding and Reshoring: What the U.S. Government Must Do,” which describes how I convinced the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to change one of their websites to put more emphasis on apprenticeships instead of solely focusing on degree level. There are still many DOL and Department of Education websites that completely ignore apprenticeships, failing to show society the benefits of this excellent alternative.

Industry-Recognized Credentials
Industry, government and educational entities need to support:

  • Industry-recognized credentials, notably credentials by NIMS for our industry’s key, in-demand functions.
    • NIMS embarked on a five-year strategic plan to develop industry-recognized standards and credentials in key specific areas of advanced manufacturing technology, including new standards and credentials in:
      • 5-axis CNC machining (with funding support from the DOD)
      • Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) (with funding support from Autodesk)
      • Dimensional measurement (with funding support from Boeing)
      • Industrial technology maintenance (with funding support from the IvyTechs in Indiana)
      • Industry 4.0 (with funding support from Festo)
      • Additive Manufacturing [with funding support from America Makes (in development)]
  • Career and Technology Education (CTE) program development: dual credit programs between high schools and community colleges and internship and apprenticeship programs at community colleges, engineering schools, and universities.
  • The Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) Manufacturing Mandate:
    • Working to create permanent incentives from a federal level to make it easier for schools to purchase new manufacturing technology equipment for their program labs.
    • Moving beyond existing industry-recognized standards and credentials to online badging and micro-credentials that follow individuals through their continuous life-learning process as they keep pace with new technology innovations.
    • Creating an environment of accessibility to CTE programs regardless of location, economic status, etc.
  • The Smartforce Career & Education Experience
    Technology shows, such as IMTS – The International Manufacturing Technology Show, offer a great opportunity for youth to grasp the excitement and relevance of manufacturing. I helped craft the first IMTS student events, starting with 100 attendees in 1998 and reaching 24,000 in 2018. The Summit attract students, teachers, administrators, and parent chaperones and increasingly focus on middle school. Many home school students attend. IMTS is planning on a combination of live and augmented reality (AR) for IMTS 2022.

The bipartisan JOBS Act currently in congress would make it easier for unemployed workers to afford skills training. It would make Pell Grants available to people who want to earn short-term certificates, as opposed to four-year degrees. The bill would make federal financial aid available for skills training.

Reevaluate and Reengage
We have unlimited control over our domestic competitiveness initiatives and our ability to achieve our ambitions. Let’s collaborate to support skilled workforce development and rebuild the U.S. manufacturing base. For help, contact me at 847-867-1144 or email me at

About the Author

Harry founded the Reshoring Initiative to bring five million manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. after working for high end machine tool supplier GF AgieCharmilles, starting as President in 1985 and retiring 12/31/10 as Chairman Emeritus. Largely due to the success of the Reshoring Initiative, Harry was inducted into the Industry Week Manufacturing Hall of Fame 2010 and was named Quality Magazine’s 2012 Quality Professional of the year and FAB Shop Magazine’s Manufacturing Person of the year. Harry participated actively in President Obama’s 1/11/12 Insourcing Forum at the White House, won The Economist debate on outsourcing and offshoring, received the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Industry Advocacy Award in 2014 and the Made in America 2019 Reshoring Award. He was recognized by Sue Helper, then Commerce Department Chief Economist, as the driving force in founding the reshoring trend and named to the Commerce Department Investment Advisory Council in August 2019.

Harry is frequently quoted in the Wall Street Journal, NYT, Forbes, Financial Times, New Yorker, Washington Post and USA Today and seen on Fox Business, MarketWatch, PRI, NPR, Manufacturing Talk Radio and other national TV and radio programs. He received a BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MS in Engineering at MIT in 1967 and an MBA from U. of Chicago in 1981.

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