President Barack Obama endorsed the creation of a national manufacturing skills certification system June 8 during a visit to Northern Virginia Community College.

The system backed by Obama is a plan by the National Association of Manufacturers' Manufacturing Institute to certify 500,000 community college students with skills that are critical to manufacturing operations.

The Manufacturing Institute will work with the president's Skills for America's Future program to implement the system that will provide certification through competency-based education and training.

Other skills initiatives the president plans to announce include collaboration between manufacturing organizations and employment groups to develop manufacturing skills.

Food processor Archer Daniels Midland Co. will help lead one of the programs, which includes partnering with Jobs for America's Graduates over the next five years to help 30,000 high-risk young people obtain professional credentials in high-demand occupations, including those in advanced manufacturing.

Next Stop: North Carolina

The president will reportedly continue his push for skilled workers during a visit to North Carolina June 13. North Carolina has become a growing hub for high-tech manufacturing businesses, including those in the pharmaceutical, aerospace and biotechnology industries.

TriQuint Semiconductor. is a Hillsboro, Ore.-based manufacturer of high-performance radio-frequency components for wireless communications. The company has struggled to fill engineering jobs over the years with U.S. employees at its North Carolina design center, says Derrell Epperson, senior director at the design center.

"The U.S., it's known, is challenged in the number of engineers we turn out in our colleges," Epperson told IndustryWeek during a recent visit to Greensboro. "Engineering is not considered the desirable profession that it may have once been, so we're force to recruit internationally from countries like China and India who produce 10 times the amount of engineering graduates that we do."

The answer to attracting more U.S.-based graduates to engineering positions is to somehow make the field more attractive to students, Epperson says.

RF Micro Devices Inc., a maker of radio-frequency systems in mobile phones and other electronic applications has partnered with area colleges to develop local talent, says Jerry Neal, an executive vice president and co-founder of the company.

"This area has always been good area for collaboration with business and educational system," he says.


RF Micro Devices has close collaborative ties with Guilford Technical Community College in High Point, Neal says. The company recruits many of its entry-level engineers and technicians from the program.


Much of the region was once dominated by the furniture and textile industries. Employment in the furniture and apparel industries has declined significantly over the years in a 12-county region in central North Carolina known as the Piedmont Triad. But it's still one of the area's largest industrial sectors.

Manufacturers are now producing more with less labor, says Bonnie Renfro, president of the Randolph County Economic Development Corp. in Asheboro, N.C.

The workers in today's furniture plants are much higher skilled than previous generations, and the plants use more factory automation than before, Renfro says.

The collaborative environment between colleges and manufacturers has helped the region attract new industries. Companies such as exercise equipment manufacturer Precor and Thomas Built Buses Inc. have opened new facilities in the Piedmont Triad region in recent years.