Manufacturers in the United States are leading an innovation revolution, transforming the products we make and how we make them. Boasting the globe’s most productive workforce, abundant energy and unparalleled technical capabilities, America is the choice for manufacturing. U.S. companies are creating jobs in the United States, and foreign enterprises are investing at record levels. The manufacturing industry is $2 trillion strong and supports about 1 in 6 American jobs.

The entire world wants the products of manufacturing in the United States, from internet-connected electronics to lifesaving pharmaceuticals. The only missing piece? The next generation of skilled workers who will take up the mantle of manufacturing and transform the future.

When skill is scarce

Over the next decade, 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled. Even as our nation strives to get people back to work, a lack of trained workers—often those with trade and technical skills—leaves most manufacturing companies scrambling for talent. This skills gap is a drag on the economy. A shortage of trained employees can slow the growth of our businesses and therefore our economy.

“Over the next decade, 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled.”

As Stephanie Cameron of APSCO Power, a small manufacturer in business for more than 50 years in Tulsa, OK, describes: “With increased demand for our products, we’ve struggled to hire team members quickly enough to keep pace. This leads to increased overtime costs and potential employee burnout.”

She can see more problems on the horizon, too. The average age of a highly skilled worker at APSCO is 56.

Opportunity lost

America is failing our youth if we do not equip them with the skills required for innovative manufacturing. Manufacturing careers pay about $15,000 more than the rest of the private sector, and manufacturing can provide job security and upward mobility like no other industry.

This is good news for working families, at a time when some are losing faith in the American dream. Political candidates are even questioning our very system of free enterprise. But we should not give up; we should not lose hope. Strategic investment in education and training will carry us toward our goal.

Help wanted

The United States can empower individuals to seize a brighter future in manufacturing by:

  • Overcoming industry stereotypes that prevent many people from viewing manufacturing as an attractive career option.

  • Enhancing education in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and math.

  • Establishing apprenticeships and on-the-job training to allow employees to earn a paycheck while they grow their skills.

  • Streamlining credentialing programs and ensuring that real-life experience counts.

Manufacturers are engaged on all fronts. We’re partnering with educators and community leaders on training initiatives. We’re promoting Manufacturing Day on Oct. 7, when manufacturers open their doors to students. We’re working with government officials to devise policy solutions.

Now we need America’s help.

In 2016, the country must elect leaders who understand and support manufacturing. Our citizens must defend against dangerous, reactionary rhetoric. And we must work together to remain true to our nation’s heritage of striving toward opportunity for all.