Jeff-KrauseThe manufacturing workforce has long been the linchpin for the prosperity of our industry and the economic value created for communities, professionals and their families. However, those critical benefits are at risk due to the growing gap between industry’s needs and the available skills of the manufacturing workforce. This is why SME places a major emphasis on training the current workforce, along with inspiring and engaging with future makers. In 2016, we reached 500,000+ professionals and students, and have initiatives planned in 2017 to further our commitment to training for the skills and knowledge needed to help the industry—and those who make it up—thrive.

In order for the current and future workforce to flourish, industry, associations, educators and government must work together. This collaboration is what will ultimately ensure manufacturers meet their business needs with the right workers, equipped with the right skills and knowledge, by providing professionals with the tools and resources they need to succeed.

Your Workforce is Your Future

It’s not always easy to identify the specific skills needed by workers, or, how to get there. A report from our training arm, Tooling U-SME, shows that 76% of manufacturers feel the training their company provides its employees is not adequate to meet the needs of the organization moving forward.

That is a scary thought for our industry, but, there are solutions.

Apprenticeships and on-the-job-training are tried and true approaches to counter the retirement of millions of experienced workers and meet the demands of today’s rapidly changing technologies. Mentoring and coaching can improve a worker’s level of expertise and their potential for continuous improvement. These approaches, combined with more formalized training, dramatically reduce the cost and time necessary for a worker to attain full job competency.

Partners in Success

Working together—whether government, a nonprofit organization, a global OEM or educational institution—is essential to improving our workforce situation. Educators need to know what real-world skills and knowledge are required for students to get jobs; manufacturers need to engage and share what they need for an optimal workforce.

The SME Education Foundation’s Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME) program is a great example of how industry/educational partnerships can benefit the next generation of manufacturers—and current manufacturing workers. The SME Education Foundation seeks out companies who value their current workforce and want to help develop the next. With their sponsorship, the Foundation equips high schools across our country with the latest technology and curriculum—as well as training for the teachers—that links to the coming needs of the companies in each school’s specific area. Students are a step ahead for a career in manufacturing, and the local manufacturer has built a network of trained workers ready to begin and advance.

Working with Stratasys, SME sponsored a student additive manufacturing competition at the 52nd annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in June. Students were evaluated on their abilities and knowledge of additive manufacturing/3D printing processes. The contest was created to attract students to new, exciting, emerging technologies and tools. These technologies are already relevant to industry and companies are looking for a workforce with additive manufacturing/3D printing experience and ability. The competition helps contestants better understand additive manufacturing applications, and with the support of Stratasys, students get hands-on experience using the latest technology and software.

We can benefit by working together, as we all bring unique offerings and expertise that can excite and appeal to students, potentially attracting bright minds to manufacturing.

Additionally, we’ve got to work harder to demonstrate the fun, rewarding and exciting side of our industry. In a survey we conducted among parents nationwide, more than half said they do not see manufacturing as an exciting, challenging or engaging profession. We need to disprove that perception.

Teachers, Students and Summits

The influence that teachers, high schools and colleges play in getting students interested in manufacturing is substantial, but the responsibility shouldn’t be solely on their shoulders.

SME regularly hosts student summits at its trade shows, events and conferences. In 2016, more than 3000 students participated in activities and toured trade show floors, seeing industry-leading technologies and talking with experienced professionals. Student summits are an excellent platform for the next-generation workforce to meet and engage with manufacturing companies wishing to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow.

This year, we introduced a new SME membership opportunity to high school students and teachers, including our PRIME students and SkillsUSA members. Through mentorships, scholarships and competitions, students can engage with working professionals and further their manufacturing education and knowledge.

What’s Ahead

We anticipate continuing these activities in 2017 and beyond. With 11 trade shows and conferences occurring throughout North America in 2017 alone, opportunities abound to teach and drive awareness of the promise and reward of a career in manufacturing.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional, a new graduate, or even a student, you have the ability to have an impact and assist in workforce attraction and development. Become a mentor, attend a trade show to expand your knowledge, sponsor a PRIME school, or form an apprenticeship program at your company. Or, contact us to find other ways to get involved at

Manufacturing is strong and vital—and will continue to be a powerhouse industry, as long as business, industry associations, educators and government stay in lockstep.

Jeffrey Krause joined SME as executive director and CEO in December 2014. Prior to joining SME, Krause held key leadership positions at General Motors and Delphi.



News, Workforce / Skills Gap