Young Georgians can lead new era of U.S. manufacturing

Thursday, September 22, 2016 12:02 pm EDT



Raj Batra, President, Digital Factory U.S., Siemens Digital Factory

As seen on LinkedIn, Wednesday, September 21st

The numbers didn’t seem to add up. How could Georgia add so many new jobs yet still have an unemployment rate that was higher than the national average?

Now we know the answer. A new study from the Metro Atlanta Chamber has revealed a startling skills gap. The degrees and certifications young people have been pursuing – and the skills Georgians currently have – is out of sync with what employers need. This is a trend endemic not just in Georgia, but countrywide.

The good news is that this problem is solvable, and Georgia’s manufacturers, especially, can be part of the solution. Then there’s the even better news: If can we make good on this promise, manufacturers can do more of what we do best by opening more doors into the middle class.

On this score, we should resist cynicism. Yes, the manufacturing sector, nationally and in Georgia – even as it’s growing again and re-shoring some operations – is smaller than it was decades ago. Yes, more factory floor processes are being automated; more robots are entering the factory floor.[i][ii]

But this doesn’t mean that opportunities to work a well-paying job in manufacturing are disappearing. It means that a transition is occurring, and that in-demand manufacturing skills are changing.

America is becoming a force in a new type of manufacturing – high-tech, digital, advanced manufacturing – in which the skill requirements are much more rigorous than they used to be. This is evident in the two million manufacturing job openings nationally that employers are having a hard time finding qualified applicants for, [iii] a statistic underscoring why employers must work harder than ever to market the opportunities that exist and make training a priority.

There are two important initiatives that should be scaled up in order to make our efforts count. First, we must recognize that the skills gap is really a training gap. Second, we need to continue implementing the chamber’s recommendation to strengthen the ties between employers and educators.

To see these principles in action, look no further than Troup County. In 2010, Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG) opened a plant there that has since created thousands of jobs and brought this former textile mill region back to life.

Now we’re taking the next important step to further the region’s reinvention. With Kia, we’re putting our support behind a young school – THINC College and Career Academy – that we believe represents the future of education. THINC isn’t just a place where students work towards degrees; it’s a public-private endeavor that prepares students to one day go toworkin well-paying professions.

At THINC, students get an early start developing career and technical skills in a work-like setting. The classrooms and labs are reminiscent of today’s shop floor, where workers wield tablets, work with computers, crunch data and interact with and service robots, all while drawing upon design, engineering, IT and soft skills.

To help THINC offer even more hands-on training, we’re providing the school with the same type of automation equipment that we supply to Kia, as well as thousands of other manufacturers. It’s real-world application right in the classroom.

This leads us to an important insight.

The automation equipment we supply Kia is part of the reason U.S. manufacturers are more productive and competitive than ever before. But it still takes a human to run it. Thus, if companies in Georgia and nationally can repeat this type of workforce readiness training happening in Troup County in other communities, we’ll be one giant step closer to closing the skills gap. Not only that, we’ll improve our local and national economies one job seeker at a time.



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