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As the increased proliferation of automation continues to reshape the U.S. economy, serious concerns have risen about robots putting humans out of work. These fears are not without merit. In the near-term, however, the more pressing issue may in fact be ensuring America’s labor force can meet the needs of the modern, high-tech factory. Currently, this so-called “skills gap” is one of the most cited explanations for the relatively slow growth in manufacturing hiring in the post-Recession era.
Different governments, companies, and organizations have tried to tackle this problem in different ways. For example, while it is unlikely to be implemented on a national level as it is in its home country, the German apprenticeship model has been embraced by communities across the United States. Experimenting with apprenticeship programs is not a new development, but the rollout of the Georgia Consortium of Advanced Technical Training program has taken it to new heights.
Elsewhere, manufacturing companies are taking a more direct approach to solving the problem. Fiat Chrysler recently opened a pair of advanced manufacturing training facilities in Indiana, a big step towards addressing critiques that the industry has not done enough to cultivate its own future workforce. Yet another company, 3D Veterans, seeks to bridge the advanced manufacturing skills gap by retraining the nation’s military veterans.
There is no right or wrong way to go about workforce development for the advanced manufacturing industry. What is certain is that it needs to happen. With the potential for major changes to trade and tariff policy looming on the horizon, it is entirely possible that U.S. companies will begin making significant domestic investments in the near future. When considering where to invest, these companies will not just look at land costs or the tax environment; workforce readiness will also be a crucial to the decision-making process. Thus, as we move further into 2017 and beyond, having an established and proven workforce development pipeline could be the deciding factor in attracting new or expanding manufacturing operations.
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