Solving the Manufacturing Skills Gap

By James O'Brien  |  Sep 06, 2012

Military service members are the target of a new initiative to create employment for veterans as they re-enter civilian life.

Eighty percent of the manufacturing companies in the United States say they cannot find enough workers with the proper skills to fill open positions at their facilities. That's the number President Barack Obama cited, as he announced the Military-to-Civilian Skills Certification Program, in June 2012.

The program's goal: to qualify U.S. military personnel for civilian jobs as engineers and manufacturers.

"If you can maintain the most advanced weapons in the world, if you're an electrician on a Navy ship, well, you can manufacture the next generation of advanced technology in our factories like this one," Obama said, speaking from the floor of a Honeywell plant in Minnesota.

But the problem is that veterans have had trouble getting hired, as Obama said, "simply because they don't have the civilian licenses or certifications that a lot of companies require."

Now, the White House's and Department of Defense's certification program is working to link experience-rich veterans with agencies that can validate the skilled work these veterans have done in the service.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers is one organization helping to achieve the program's goal of 500,000 credentialed vets. The nonprofit organization has just completed its first summer of certifying service members, focusing at first on the U.S. Army.

"The students are officers of the Army with significant engineering background," said Pam Hurt, industry manager in Workforce Development for the Society. "These certifications prove that service personnel have the skills and knowledge needed by manufacturing companies looking for skilled, motivated employees."

Starting in July 2012, the first class of soldiers started a six-week curriculum at Fort Leonard Wood, in Missouri. Exams followed.

Hurt said the pilot program worked with approximately 15 service members. Class sizes going forward will be determined by how many soldiers with the proper skills are available, she said.

Funding for the initiative is expected to last through at least the next year. And the Society's goal is to expand its focus as the pilot evolves.

"We hope to continue partnering with each service to address their needs, assist their soldiers and officers as they serve our country, and we will continue to do that as they become veterans," Hurt said.

JAMES O'BRIEN - James O'Brien is a correspondent for The Boston Globe and Boston University's Research magazine. He blogs for clients on topics that range from music, art, and culture to business, investing, and personal finance. He holds a Ph.D. in Editorial Studies from the Editorial Institute at Boston University.

This article originally appeared on The Atlantic Online as part of the Investing In A Better Tomorrow program.

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