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How government can act more like LinkedIn

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Sen. Chris Coons

Sen. Chris Coons
Guest Columnist

Editor’s Note: Sen. Coons originally posted this column on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has become a critical part of the 21st century American economy because it’s a one-stop-shop. Workers come here looking for new jobs, new opportunities, and new ways they can improve their careers.  Businesses come here to scout out talented employees, improve their capacity, and hire the best and brightest.   From advertising and accounting to software development and fashion design, dozens of industries are able to meet their workforce and employment needs on one platform.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple, and for one industry in particular ““ which happens to be one of the fastest growing in America ““ there’s more that government needs to do to help workers find jobs and help businesses find the skilled employees they need: manufacturing. The good news is that we’re doing something about it.

Now, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that LinkedIn is an odd place for skilled job seekers to land a job in manufacturing, but the truth is that manufacturing in the 21st century has changed.

It’s no longer an industry of dirty assembly line floors, tedious, backbreaking work, and low paying jobs.  In reality, manufacturing jobs now require higher-level skills than ever before, and for employees to succeed in today’s manufacturing jobs, they need to be able to think quickly, work within a team, and possess advanced math and science skills.

Manufacturing jobs pay more in wages and benefits than jobs in any other sector and contribute more to local economies. They account for 70 percent of our nation’s private sector research and development and 90 percent of our patents.  Manufacturing is one of our country’s fastest growing industries and has created more than 860,000 jobs since 2010, but despite all that, there are tens of thousands of good-paying, advanced manufacturing jobs right here in the United States that still need to be filled.

The problem is matching workers with the right skills with the businesses that desperately need to fill positions, and that’s where government needs to do more.

While manufacturing has advanced to match our modern, global economy, our workforce-training programs have lagged behind. In too many communities, government has failed to adapt to the 21st century, leaving job seekers without the skills to compete and leaving businesses without the high-skilled workers they need to grow.

This gap will continue to grow unless we act now ““ Boston Consulting Group estimates there are currently between 80,000 and 100,000 unfilled skilled manufacturing jobs in the United States ““ and that this number could reach 875,000 by 2020.

That’s why I’ve introduced the bipartisan Manufacturing Skills Act ““ legislation to help cities and states modernize their job training programs for the 21st century and equip job seekers with the skills they need for the advanced manufacturing jobs of today. By offering up $100 million in federal funds, local governments will have to compete to modernize their workforce training programs and be selected for one of five $20 million grants.

Crucially, the competition will reward reforms that build closer ties between local governments, schools, labor, and businesses, so that they all work together to move in the same direction: forward.

I introduced the bill with my colleague from across the aisle, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and it has attracted support from a wide range of organizations, including the AFL-CIO, DuPont, the Association for Career & Technical Education, the National Skills Coalition, Third Way, and the United Autoworkers, among others.

The high number of unfilled, high-quality manufacturing jobs should motivate us all to take advantage of this enormous opportunity. Workers today have what it takes to thrive in these jobs and create thousands more in the process, but they need the right training and support from their communities. The Manufacturing Skills Act will help make sure workers have the skills they need to meet the demand and close the gap.

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