Darlene Miller's long search is over, for now. About a month ago, her company, Permac Industries, hired an off-shift programmer for its Swiss-style CNC machinery, the culmination of a recruiting effort that surpassed two years.

"Finding skilled and trained workers is almost impossible," says Miller, president and CEO of the Burnsville, Minn., custom manufacturer of precision parts. "I used employment agencies. Our people used Craigslist, the workforce centers, state boards, college boards, technical schools, every concept you can think of, and still [we] could not find that trained person," she says.

"And the more advanced technology we get into, the tougher and tougher it is."

See More: Manufacturing Workforce Training Best Practices

Toyota's Dennis Dio Parker shares similar concerns. Parker, who is assistant manager, North American Production Support Center, at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, points out that a significant number of retirements are looming among workers at Toyota's Georgetown, Ky., plant, which at 26 years is the automaker's oldest U.S. facility. Its workforce includes about 600 skilled maintenance-technician positions.

Darlene Miller
President, CEO
Permac Industries

He sees a dearth of career-ready candidates able to step into those slots as well as fill similar positions at Toyota's 14 other directly owned facilities.

"It is a huge problem," he says.

The dilemma facing Miller and Parker will come as no surprise to most manufacturers in the United States. Alarmed conversations about a skilled worker shortage in manufacturing are commonplace -- particularly a shortage of skilled production jobs such as CNC programmers, electrical and mechanical technicians, machinists and other crafts people. Indeed, 67% of respondents to a 2011 survey by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute reported a moderate to severe shortage of available qualified workers, with 56% anticipating a worsening shortage over the next three to five years. Moreover, those percentages climb to 83% and 76% for skilled production positions.

"Manufacturers are having the hardest time filling skilled production jobs that fuel their ability to innovate and grow," the report notes.

Not all manufacturers are merely sounding the alarm, however. Some -- and perhaps a growing number -- are like Permac Industries and Toyota (IW 1000/5). These two manufacturers, as well as steel giant ArcelorMittal (IW 1000/40), machine tool maker MAG IAS and others, have stepped off the sidelines and into actively participating in the development and training of the skilled production workers they need to remain competitive. To be sure, they are not doing it alone. Instead they are engaging partners like community colleges, manufacturing organizations, training providers and government resources.

Right Skills Now For Fast-Track Machining Needs

For Permac Industries' Miller, future hires may be easier to come by. Miller is a key player in the development of Right Skills Now, an accelerated training program aimed at helping smaller manufacturers find the skilled precision-machining talent they need -- and quickly.

Many smaller manufacturers, like Permac Industries, have the same skilled-workforce needs as larger firms but not the same resources to either obtain that talent or train them, Miller says. Coming out of the recession put an added damper on training because operations have been pared back, "and orders are fast and quick when they do come."

"It isn't like it used to be when you had lead time," she says. "You need to be able to jump, so your people have to be very efficient, and you don't really have a lot of extra hours to do training."

Miller is a member of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. That affiliation opened the door for a message she delivered to President Obama, who had been touting the message that all kids need to go to college, and then a continuing conversation that led to the launch of Right Skills Now.

"I said, 'Excuse me Mr. President, but all kids do not need to go to college. All kids need advanced training of some sort, but they do not necessarily need college,' and then I explained about the openings in our industry," she said.

Not only has Miller's industry been challenged by high schools that cut back or dropped technical training, but also by two-year community colleges whose programs were too generic or irrelevant to aid precision-machining firms like Permac Industries. Or the programs simply took too long to complete.