Workforce: Cause-Effect Confusion

Oct. 29, 2013
"We have to attack the problem from both sides," says Pradeep Amladi, vice president and global marketing head for high-tech and manufacturing industries and supply chain at SAP.

Some American manufacturers have brought notable numbers of jobs back to the United States in recent years: Ford, NCR and Caterpillar are among the prominent reshorers. But the pace at which reshoring is happening is not sufficient to replace even a fraction of the 5 million-plus manufacturing jobs America hemorrhaged last decade. The Reshoring Initiative recently reported that about 50,000 manufacturing jobs have been brought back to the U.S. since 2010 -- but roughly the same number of jobs are leaving the country each year as are being created.

More incentives wouldn't hurt. While the federal government has created a number of programs aimed at encouraging manufacturers to reshore, many say Washington could and should do more. But another key reason manufacturers are hesitant to bring jobs back is that technology has so profoundly altered the landscape since last decade's job exodus that many companies are not confident they could find enough workers who have acquired the up-to-date skills needed to fill the new positions.

The conundrum American manufacturers face is a classic case of cause-effect confusion. Some view it as a matter of displaced workers being unable to acquire the high-tech skills that companies need until jobs are created so they can train on the job. Others say new jobs can't or shouldn't be created until sufficient pools of candidates are trained and ready to go.

"It's a classic chicken-and-egg problem," says Pradeep Amladi, vice president and global marketing head for high-tech and manufacturing industries and supply chain at SAP.

Both Sides Now

Amladi says both sides of the cause-effect-slash-effect-cause argument have merit, and therefore a two-pronged approach is needed to address the issue.

"We have to attack the problem from both sides," he says. "We've seen examples of how some public-private partnerships are beginning to bear fruit: where there has been a good combination of community colleges and companies working together to create jobs, and the schools are educating students so they can quickly be hired into the new areas."

Amladi cited an example in North Carolina, where, he says, "local communities and technical colleges have come together to drive regional economic development by getting high-quality talent ready to succeed in today's fast-paced, agile manufacturing workplaces."

Amladi says such efforts need to be celebrated and highlighted in order to attract pools of young, tech-savvy job candidates.

Find out why supply chain personnel and CFOs have vital roles in the fight to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. at

"Think about it: If you're 20, 25 years old, all you've heard about is that manufacturing is going away," he says. "Very few of these younger people view manufacturing as a viable career. The more we publicize these public-private partnerships and similar successes, the more we'll see them happen. Even the smallest successes -- we need to do a better job publicizing all of them. It can only help." 

About the Author

Pete Fehrenbach | Pete Fehrenbach, Associate Editor

Focus:  Workforce  |  Chemical & Energy Industries  |  IW Manufacturing Hall of Fame

Follow Pete on Twitter: @PFehrenbachIW

Associate editor Pete Fehrenbach covers strategies and best practices in manufacturing workforce, delivering information about compensation strategies, education and training, employee engagement and retention, and teamwork. He writes a blog about workforce issue called Team Play.

Pete also provides news and analysis about successful companies in the chemical and energy industries, including oil and gas, renewable and alternative.

In addition, Pete coordinates the IndustryWeek Manufacturing Hall of Fame, IW’s annual tribute to the most influential executives and thought leaders in U.S. manufacturing history.

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