First, the good news! The U.S., perhaps surprisingly to some, has now topped China in Manufacturing Competitiveness, according to a Deloitte study. The other news is not necessarily bad, but is worth noting. Jobs in manufacturing have been changing rapidly, as automation has proceeded in almost every industry. And that has created a conundrum: Lots of new jobs have been created, but a large “skills gap” has developed, with close to half of the estimated 3-4 million new jobs being created going unfilled, unless extensive training can be provided.
An article in the May 23rd issue of Chemical & Engineering News discussed what a number of chemical companies are doing to deal with this issue, with help from SOCMA and other agencies. There are basically two problems. First, a number of older workers are retiring, taking with them a great deal of knowledge. Secondly, a substantial part of the pool of potential new workers is sadly lacking in STEM knowledge and skills as needed to operate the increasingly sophisticated controls and machinery being installed in both existing and new plants. And some millenials are hesitant to apply for jobs in industry.
Turning to the chemical industry, SOCMA is offering, free of charge, a worker training curriculum called Chemical Operator Training (COT) that includes some of the necessary math, chemistry and work process skills. This course doesn’t guarantee quality instruction, but is helpful to a number of firms. But some small or Community colleges that offer an associates degree in industrial systems technology are considering grafting COT to this program so that participants can obtain a degree that includes operator training. SOCMA is also working on grafting COT to a course offered by the Manufacturing Skill and Standards Council which offers a certification program called Certified Production Technician, a 160-hour course accredited by the American National Standards Institute. People involved in developing these combined programs are enthusiastic about the potential for a “wholly new career path in manufacturing”, including a degree.
Still, many millenials are not used to or happy about the prospect of working a five day, eight hour job. Manufacturing jobs are often not considered attractive career paths. This may, in part, account for the fact that there were an estimated 600,000 unfilled jobs in 2011!
Studies have shown that people with degrees earn more than those without. So, programs that offer degrees in courses that offer STEM education as part of operator training for chemical jobs may be a real sweet spot, as the U.S, continues to pursue industrial competitiveness.