Wednesday, December 10, 2014

As large companies reshore, how to meet the workforce demands?

A recent article in the New York Times, "Nevada Provides Test Case in Debate Over a Skills Gap," by Dionne Searcey, raises important points about and potential solutions for the workforce challenges of labor-intensive reshoring projects.

Tesla, by reshoring lithium battery production from Japan to Nevada and building their now-infamous gigafactory, will ultimately employ a workforce of 6,500 people: this is a potentially-major boon for a state that has had an unemployment rate consistently higher than its neighbors since the recession. 

(Image from Google with data from BLS)

But where will Tesla find these workers?

This is the skills gap in a nutshell: demand for workers with STEM and other technical skills is rising, but business leaders can't find enough employees to fill the demand. Though some economists argue that wages aren't increasing, therefore there must not be a skills gap, a recent Harvard Business School study cited in the New York Times article suggests otherwise: the U.S. is facing a critical shortage of workers with technical skills because "employers are more inclined to invest in technology or hire part-time workers than spend money on training programs...[and] companies have lagged in collaborating with community colleges to develop training programs."

Which begs the question for Nevada: in a state better known for its profusion of service industries, where will the skilled workforce that Tesla needs come from? According to Ms. Searcey's Times article, Nevada's economic development agencies and local colleges have been collaborating to bring the skills training Tesla and other high-tech employers require to its classrooms. Further, she reports that Tesla is already taking an active role in developing STEM training and development programs for the state, despite only just recently having confirmed Nevada as the gigafactory's site.

Tesla is not the only large manufacturer taking an active role in preparing current students for future STEM careers. A recent article in the Standard-Examiner by Jesus Lopez Jr., "ATK Clearfield to make components for Boeing 787", discusses collaboration between composites contract manufacturer ATK Aerospace Structures and local community colleges to develop composites manufacturing curricula to serve current and future large contracts, such as one with Boeing for the 787, which is estimated to bring at least another 1,000 jobs to Utah. An article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Maureen Downey discusses Siemens sending North Carolina community college professors to Germany "to learn advanced manufacturing and machine tooling." Siemens "then created training programs in Charlotte community colleges", to ensure students would be trained by professors capable of teaching the skills Siemens needed. Siemens is also developing a German-style apprenticeship program beginning in high school in North Carolina.

In conclusion, manufacturers are discovering that collaboration between manufacturers and training institutions, such as community colleges, is key to developing and maintaining the skilled workforce U.S. manufacturers require. As Ms. Searcey argues in the Times, "if better collaboration between educators and businesses to offer more training helps solve Nevada’s work force deficit, it will prove that there is a real skills gap, and that employers are not just crying wolf. And it will also prove the gap can be addressed."
See also:

Festo Didactic Opens Workforce Education Center in NJ

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