The US labour force is becoming increasingly more difficult for manufacturers to navigate. For example, Tenere Inc, a contract manufacturer with several locations in Wisconsin and one in Mexico, has reportedly begun using robots in its US factories – not to undercut or replace factory workers but because it could not find humans to do those jobs.

Tenere’s experiences resonate with a report from US real estate services firm CoreNet Global entitled 'US manufacturing location strategy: workforce drives decision when selecting US sites'. It found that the top priority for companies seeking to locate manufacturing operations in the US is access to skilled labour – of which there is a growing shortfall.

Advertisement

The report said that US high school and college students are not being educated and trained to go into the manufacturing sector, resulting in a severe skills gap. Needless to say, much is at stake for localities seeking to attract big manufacturing plants. Industrial output in the US grew at a rate of 3.5% in 2015 and 3.9% in 2016 with an annual growth of 3.26% predicted over the next five years, according to the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation. To miss out on this growth because manufacturers cannot find labour is frustrating to the extreme.

It is also an all-too-possible future scenario for many locations. Predictions indicate that 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be available in the US by 2025 but 2 million will go unfilled because of the skills gap. One response has been the formation of partnerships between high schools and community colleges and local manufacturers. The schools provide a manufacturing-specific education and the manufacturers supply the jobs.

In the state of Montana, the Gallatin Valley Manufacturing Partnership is a newly formed coalition of local manufacturers partnering with local high schools to create curriculum that might interest them enough to pursue a career in manufacturing.

And earlier in 2017, NASA's agency-wide Hunch (High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware) programme and the SME Education Foundation’s Prime (Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education) programme collaborated to expand the pipeline of skilled manufacturing talent in the US.

Brian Glowiak, vice-president of the SME Education Foundation, said: “Through this partnership we are motivating youth to consider careers in manufacturing and preparing them with the skillsets and knowledge to succeed.”