By Mark J. Schmit, Ph.D., SPHR, vice president, Research

June 24 — Today marks the day of an important manufacturing summit being held in Atlanta, Ga., ahead of the SHRM Annual Conference. The purpose of the summit is two-fold. First, we are striving to further bring to light the skills gap issue facing manufacturers worldwide. Second and more importantly, we are beginning a dialogue about programs that are being successfully implemented to solve the skills gap problem, in addition to generating new ideas for additional programs that might stave off the building crisis.

For manufacturers in the United States, many have experienced significant improvements in their financial position during the current post-recession period. In fact, our recent research shows that 75 percent of manufacturers are currently hiring new employees. However, in many cases, the jobs that were lost during the recession have been redesigned and many of them require new and higher-level skills.

Technology growth has been one of the key drivers of this change. As a result, many manufacturers are having a difficult time finding applicants with the skills needed to fill these mid- and high-skill jobs. Our research finds that two-thirds of all the hiring manufacturers are reporting these difficulties.

The gap between unemployed American workers’ skills and those required for open jobs with U.S. manufacturers is large. Consequently, these employers are unable to fill key jobs in their organization. It follows logically that if critical jobs cannot be filled in organizations, then other less critical jobs requiring less skill cannot be created either because the organization’s growth potential is stunted.

So, the cycle of low or no job growth continues and the stubborn, hovering unemployment numbers reflect this reality.

This situation represents a challenge for HR professionals in manufacturing. Creative solutions — such as flexible work arrangements, cooperative consortiums of companies designing skills training programs, collective efforts of companies and community colleges to close skill gaps, or efforts to translate skills of veterans and integrate them into the workforce — are but a few examples of ways HR professionals are starting to rise to the challenge.

The Manufacturing Summit being held today is a step in the long journey to solve this growing problem in the U.S. economy.

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