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Investments in Machine Tools Increase Need for Skilled Workers
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Cooperation, rather than competition, may be the best tactic to provide the number of skilled workers needed by modern manufacturers.

In the last few months, U.S. manufacturers have resumed investing in new machine tools and equipment for material handling, conveying and packaging. It's good news for skilled workers in the machinery industry, but what does it mean for manufacturing in general?

For one thing, if your competitor is investing and you are not, you need to consider how you'll move ahead. The latest in automation isn't always the answer, given the productivity gains experienced through process improvement and lean manufacturing, but a periodic assessment is a positive move.

Local labor markets are already affected. Low-skilled workers often find themselves without work, while there is a high demand for employees who can operate and maintain more complex machines. Manufacturers say that they can find plenty of people when there's a job opening, but not the right people. Companies that supply temporary factory workers are also searching for reliable people with technical skills and having a hard time finding them. In some communities, the workers with the best skills are moving from one company to the next, as each offers them more money.

To meet the growing demand, some employers are joining forces with economic development organizations, community colleges and vocational high schools, supporting programs to attract and train young people for technical careers. Community colleges have also been offering technical training to give displaced workers CNC, CAD/CAM and machine repair knowledge. For a lucky few, employers are sponsoring their continuing education. Apprenticeship programs that have all but vanished are being revived. Government help may also be available. In Michigan, for example, unemployed workers can qualify for state support in retraining for these jobs.

Having sophisticated machine tools is one key to increasing productivity and competitiveness for many manufacturers. Area-wide cooperation may be the key to supplying the skilled workers to realize the productivity promise.

 


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