#NationOfBuilders Hearing Highlights Efforts to Train Workers of the Future

November 15, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, chaired by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), today continued its Our Nation of Builders series with a hearing focused on efforts to train a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce, which is essential for America’s manufacturing industry to remain competitive and innovative. Members and witnesses discussed the growing skills gap in the American workforce and industry efforts to bridge that gap and prepare workers for the jobs of today and the future.

“The subject matter we will be discussing today brings together a common thread that appeared in almost all of our manufacturing hearings: the demands that our manufacturing renaissance is placing on our workforce – especially workers trained in science, technology, engineering and math – is resulting in a current and future shortfall of workers,” said Chairman Terry.

Jennifer McNelly, President of The Manufacturing Institute, described how the skills gap is holding back economic growth and threatening the future of the industry. “The U.S. is betting its entire economic future on our ability to produce leading-edge products. Whether it’s in IT, biotech, aerospace, construction…it doesn’t matter. We’ll be the ones to constantly create new and better things,” said McNelly. “This future promises to be bright, but only if we have the workforce capable of pushing that leading-edge. And right now, that doesn’t look like a very good bet.”

To help address this challenge, The Manufacturing Institute created a Skills Certification System, which identifies a basic set of credentials and certifications necessary for workers to succeed in the manufacturing industry. “While on its face, the idea of a skills certification system may not seem transformational, it is in fact reforming education, defining the outcome of success from completion to achievement of an industry standard,” said McNelly.

Allyson Knox, Director of Education Policy and Programs at Microsoft, explained the failure of our education system to adequately prepare students for today’s cutting-edge jobs. “While companies are experiencing a national talent crisis, too many young people today are experiencing an opportunity divide between the training they have and the skills they need to succeed. This growing challenge is the result of our education system not keeping pace with the changing needs of the workplace, especially in the computer science and other high demand STEM fields.” Microsoft is now engaging in public-private partnerships to help enhance school programs and teaching to “provide youth with the skills they need to succeed.”

Sandra Westlund-Deenihan, CEO and design engineer of Quality Float Works, Inc., explained how small businesses are increasingly unable to find quality applicants to fill positions and urged industry leaders to engage and be a part of the solution. “We need to partner with our schools and tell them what we need to create a system that meets the immediate needs of employers today; adequately train and prepare the workforce of the next five to ten years; establish a solid educational foundation for our children; and mentor young people on the benefits of manufacturing and STEM-related careers,” said Westlund-Deenihan. “Modern manufacturing is no longer a dirty job, but as leaders in the industry, I believe we need to get our hands dirty to fix the skills gap problem.”

Terry concluded, “Congress needs to come up with fresh ideas on how we can continue to train the next generation of builders, programmers, manufacturers, technicians and entrepreneurs. There is surely going to be more than one answer, and working with the private sector to leverage our potential will be a must.”

 

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