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Trump’s Council of Manufacturing CEOs are Wrestling with the Talent Issue

Manufacturing CEOs and President Donald Trump talked about how to eradicate the skills gap and educate and employ more Americans in the manufacturing industry.

GettyImages-174942079-compressorRecently, President Trump brought two dozen manufacturing CEOs to the White House to discuss an issue on which he campaigned incessantly: Bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.

According to Associated Press (reporters were permitted to attend the gathering on condition of not quoting individual executives by name), a number of CEOs indicated there were still plenty of openings for U.S. factory jobs, but too few qualified people to fill them. They urged the White House to support vocational training for the high-tech skills that today’s manufacturers increasingly require—a topic Trump has seldom addressed.

“The jobs are there, but the skills are not,” one executive said during meetings with White House officials that preceded a session with the president. The discussion of job training and worker skills is a relatively new one for Trump, who has never gone into detail about how exactly to bring back jobs. White House officials said Trump heard the CEOs’ concerns about a shortage of qualified workers and said he supports efforts to increase training for factory jobs. But no details were provided.

“We were challenged by the president to … come up with a program to make sure the American worker is trained for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow,” Reed Cordish, a White House official, told AP after the meetings.

“The jobs that can come back are high-tech jobs, if we have the industry to support it.

The vexing part of the problem was articulated by Richard Gilchrist, CEO of Felsomat, a Schaumberg, IL materials handling firm, when he told the Chicago Tribune, “The jobs that can come back are high-tech jobs, if we have the industry to support it.”

Recruiting has been an uphill climb as an increasingly high-tech manufacturing sector battles the image of a dirty, dying industry and a mindset that idealizes a university education. Gilchrist chairs a Chicago-area group of manufacturers that partner with local high schools and community colleges to train a new generation of workers excited for a career in advanced manufacturing.

On May 16 and 17, Chief Executive’s Smart Manufacturing Summit—to be held in Seattle in partnership with Boeing—will address head-on the challenge of attracting and developing a workforce to meet the needs of advanced manufacturing. Steve Bock, president of Bedrock Manufacturing, will address some of the solutions they’ve pursued, such as training, reskilling, recruiting, deploying and retaining employees—with an in-depth look at one company’s use of apprenticeships. Peter Riehle will discuss how WITTENSTEIN North America closed its skills gap by creating an effective apprenticeship training program based on a German model.

For more information on the Smart Manufacturing Summit, click here.

About J.P. Donlon

J.P. Donlon
J.P. Donlon is Editor Emeritus of Chief Executive magazine.