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Matt Fieldman

Innovation

America Works: An Innovative Approach to Workforce Development

A new Manufacturing Extension Partnership grant will fund a major push in manufacturing innovation

Published: Wednesday, April 7, 2021 - 12:01

What is America Works, and why is it important to the future of American manufacturing?

The American manufacturing industry is at a crossroads, facing growing competition from foreign countries while struggling to develop a skilled, dedicated workforce here at home. American manufacturers are desperately searching for more employees in general, and more skilled workers specifically. Before the pandemic, it was widely reported that there were 600,000 manufacturing openings unfilled nationwide. Further, according to a November 2018 study in MIT Technology Review, during the next 10 years, 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will be created, with 2.4 million going unfilled due to a lack of skills and interest.

Not surprising, manufacturers are reporting that these vacant positions impact critical business metrics, including productivity (51%), growth (47%), customer service (42%), and innovation (43%). To put that in terms of the monetary impact on the U.S. economy, the workforce shortage could jeopardize $454 billion of economic output by 2028 and more than $2.5 trillion during the next decade.

To respond to this challenge, the MEP National Network, with an MEP center in every state and Puerto Rico, is innovating across the nation. New programs have sprung up to reach vast spectrums of populations that could and should consider manufacturing careers: youth from kindergarten through high school, returning citizens, opportunity youth (people ages 18–26 who are neither in college nor working), recent immigrants, and many others.

To equip our current production workers with the latest technical skills, MEP centers have diverse in-person and virtual offerings, from lean and quality to basic automation and robotics. For supervisors and executives, MEP centers are hosting specialized training, roundtable discussions, and intensive boot camps. In total, MEP centers are active in 27 different areas of workforce development—a number that is only growing as state governments, community colleges, high schools, and other economic development organizations partner with their local MEP center to assist with workforce development.

The effect of these engagements is clear: MEP centers interacted with 27,574 manufacturers and helped create or retain 105,748 jobs in 2020 alone.

Today, MEP centers have a tremendous opportunity to share their best practices and lessons learned nationwide, and to formally partner with more organizations that share similar goals. That’s where America Works comes in. This new grant award to Missouri Enterprise—with partners from the MEP centers in Ohio, New Jersey, Iowa, and Indiana—offers a shared, collaborative space for MEP center staff at all levels to congregate, discuss, innovate, and create new solutions. America Works will engage both for-profit and nonprofit partners in this goal, including Tooling U, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, Jobs for the Future, professional associations, and other organizations with expertise in manufacturing workforce development.

We have big things planned. During the next three years, America Works will focus on four primary goals:
1. Accelerate individual and national MEP center innovation, effectiveness, and efficiency by offering a national database, resources, informal and formal connections, and hands-on consulting
2. Identify and scale up effective solutions beyond local MEP centers to catalyze national workforce development improvement
3. Solidify MEP centers as the go-to place for American small manufacturers facing workforce issues or opportunities
4. Create a model for future inventories, centralization, and coordination of MEP centers, which could be expanded to other areas in the future

So that’s all great, but how will America Works affect local manufacturers from Connecticut to California? Manufacturers of all sizes will appreciate that when they call their local MEP for assistance, their consultant will have access to the most advanced, proven tools from across the national network. If manufacturing CEOs want to start a new program in their plant—perhaps to hire high-school interns, introduce supervisors to Industry 4.0 technologies, or test a formal apprenticeship program—they will have the confidence that their local MEP center, with the resources of the full MEP National Network, can and will support them every step of the way.

During the next three years, America Works will have a tangible impact on the American manufacturing industry by helping more people launch their own successful careers in manufacturing, helping more companies fill their critical open positions, and improving the industry’s diversity and inclusion of people from all backgrounds. This is the bold, transformative vision of America Works, and we’re excited to partner with you to make it happen.

First published March 9, 2021, on NIST’s Manufacturing Innovation Blog.

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About The Author

Matt Fieldman’s picture

Matt Fieldman

Matt Fieldman is executive director of America Works, a nationwide initiative to coordinate the American manufacturing industry’s training efforts, generating a more capable, skilled, and diverse workforce. Based at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Fieldman works across the nation’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) system to increase collaboration, efficiency, and impact of local and regional workforce development efforts. Previously, he was vice president of external affairs for MAGNET, a nonprofit that helps Northeast Ohio’s small and medium-sized manufacturers grow locally while competing globally.