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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Knowing How to Learn

At a recent Manufacture America conference, a variety of panels addressed topics that included growth opportunities, sources of capital, product development and innovation, internet marketing, connecting to tax incentives, and connecting to new skills workforce retraining.

The overall theme seemed to be human capital. Fewer people are required to do the jobs of several individuals as the economy has created a leaner employee base for many companies. Within the discussion about supply chain the panelists mentioned that talent acquisition and retention of a skilled workforce is necessary to maintaining a tight supply chain. One of the impediments to many manufacturers is innovation and the response of their employees to the newest technologies. To overcome that "bump in the road" we need a workforce trained in science and technology as well as young workers who are adept in soft skills - showing up to work on time and staying all day, showing a work ethic, and providing strategic thinking and thought leadership.

There will be a shortage of engineers, both mechanical and electrical in the United States. One way to overcome that is to promote technical schools and actively recruit for math and science in elementary and secondary schools.

The overall theme in the session on workforce retraining was as long as people "know how to learn" that manufacturers will be able to advance into the new technologies. For every 10 workers that were in the workforce, they are only being replaced with 3-7 workers. The people that are hired today are being required to have more and more skills to fill a "multi-function" position. The term "purple squirrel" comes into play with this. Employers are looking for those elusive purple squirrels - a singular multi-talented individual to fill one job that requires 15 skills.

The mention of soft skills came up in that same session. What employers want is someone who has the ability to spell, perform math functions, read and comprehend in English, be able to have a personal interface, possesses management and/or supervisory skills, be thought leaders, and be able to learn or know actual job skills.

Again, by exposing young people to what the manufacturing world has become, we may be able to compete globally with our workforce in the advancing technological economic climate.

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