Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is reaching out to the manufacturing community as he explores the facets of his new job.
In addressing his staff last month he pointed out that under the Trump administration the Department of Commerce, has “more responsibility than ever before.”
And helping manufacturing by changing trade practices is a top priority. “To start, we will be more involved with rebalancing a trade system that has gutted American manufacturing and left families across America without work and without hope,” he said.
The emphasis on a stronger manufacturing sector, at its core, is a focus on increasing jobs. Ross points out that one trade agreement in particular, NAFTA, has cost the U.S. jobs. “Since the signing of NAFTA, America has lost more than a quarter of its manufacturing jobs and we have run up a trade deficit in goods, globally, that reached $800 billion last year,“ he said.
Increasing jobs in the sector, whether from reshoring, or finding new workers to fill new roles in the sector, is harder than it looks.
Last week Ross met with Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret to learn about the strategies that Rockwell has used.
At the top of Moret’s list on building a strong workforce is education. “Lifelong learning for factory workers provides a competitive advantage," Moret said. "No matter how much you automate, your people will remain your most important asset. Suppliers, producers and the government all have a role to play in evolving the workforce to adapt to changes in this industry and to train workers for these highly skilled roles.”
Rockwell Automation has made significant investments in a variety of programs including:
- A comprehensive training program that prepares 15,000 individuals annually through combined classroom learning and on-the-job training.
- An ongoing commitment to encouraging new careers in STEM, including a recent $12 million, four-year commitment to FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), founded to spark young people’s interest and inspire their participation in science and technology.
- A culture of inclusion program that addresses the recruitment, development and advancement of women that has led to measurable results.
Rockwell’s multi-pronged strategy demonstrates the breadth the manufacturing sector needs to address to retain and attract manufacturing workers. While lately a great deal of emphasis has been placed on bringing companies back to the U.S., any jobs that return could add to the current shortage of skilled workers in the sector. Over the next decade, according to the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte there will be a shortage of 2 million workers.
Rockwell is addressing this issue by offering in-house training. Other companies are using apprenticeship programs, many of which are based on the German model of apprenticeship. Last week, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser met with President Trump and told the Wall Street Journal that Trump appeared supportive of increasing apprenticeships. He said that German companies might help in those efforts. Siemens has brought its model to the U.S. and in 2011 launched an apprenticeship program at its Charlotte Energy Hub. It has since created programs in other states.
Kaeser also said that Trump could be open to worker retraining programs as a way to expand the workforce. These types of programs are common in Germany.
Another Rockwell tactic, investing in STEM education, is becoming quite common in the manufacturing community. In addition to making sure that this curriculum is stronger in schools, companies are looking at the whole supply chain of talent. At Toyota’s Kentucky plant that effort has resulted in the company joining KY FAME. As reported by Laura Putre of IndustryWeek,this group is developing outreach programs to familiarize guidance counselors with the advanced manufacturing world.
“Counselors are really misinformed about what manufacturing is,” Dennis Dio Parker, developer of the Integrated Advanced Manufacturing Career Pathways for Toyota’s Georgetown, Ky. Facility, told a Brookings Institution panel in April.
In addition to general education, Rockwell told Ross the company was reaching out specifically to women. Ford Motor Co. is also looking to build this source of talent and in 2015 announced it was partnering with Girls Who Code to encourage young women to consider tech careers and help them flourish in STEM studies. The partnership includes mentorship, instruction and hands-on learning opportunities at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto for girls in grades 6 to 12.
All of these strategies, and many more that will be developed in the future, may become strategies of the Trump team as it endeavors to meet its goal of building up the country's manufacturing sector.
Perhaps Moret said it best back in 2015 in an article in IndustryWeek. (He was senior vice president, Control Products and Solutions, at the time.). “Manufacturers and industrial operators face a formidable challenge – attracting tomorrow’s workers while preserving the collective knowledge and experience of the baby boomer workforce. They must nurture a new generation of tech-savvy production workers and managers who are ready to face the challenge ahead. This requires attracting students early, feeding their interest in manufacturing, and showing the benefits of a career in manufacturing."