WASHINGTON—The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) told a high-level interagency roundtable that the retirement of baby boomers in a few years will lead to a critical shortage of workers with the necessary skills to compete in a high-tech global economy.
Jointly hosted by the U.S. departments of Commerce, Education and Labor, the roundtable featured a number of manufacturers and trade associations. It is the last in a series of field hearings held by the Commerce Department in preparation for a major report on the state and future of U.S. manufacturing.
“The coming skills shortage is an issue that’s come up at every single one of the Commerce Department’s hearings,” says Phyllis Eisen, head of NAM’s Center for Workforce Success. “There just aren’t enough young people in the pipeline who have the interest or the abilities in math and science to fill the void that will be left when the bulk of the baby boomers start retiring.”
In April, NAM released Keeping America Competitive: How a Talent Shortage Threatens U.S. Manufacturing. The study states that the looming shortage of highly skilled employees could undercut manufacturing competitiveness and weaken the overall U.S. economy. The study cited a convergence of factors, including demographic shifts, failures of the educational system and a negative stereotype of the “assembly line,” as contributing to the shortage.
“The need to train workers to be globally competitive is a strain on small and medium-sized companies, particularly as manufacturing is already struggling through its slowest recovery in a century,” says Tony Raimondo, chairman and CEO of Behlen Manufacturing Co. (Columbus, NE), and a member of NAM’s executive board. “If left unchecked, the shortfall could hobble our manufacturing competitiveness once the global economic recovery gets going. And because manufacturing accounts for more than 20 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, the problem threatens the entire national economy.”