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Training or Technology - Why Not Both?


Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical and the man President Obama picked to co-chair the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), commented in a recent interview that US unemployment will hover around present levels for years.

He said that the weak construction industry is a major cause of our present economic malaise and joblessness will continue until new, robust sectors arise to replace it.

Manufacturing is one of those sectors — in fact, it may be key. In response to the AMP announcement, Senior Senator Carl Levin, Michigan, said, "For too long, leaders in Washington have looked at manufacturing as yesterday's news, and that was bad news for Michigan. But this new partnership shows Washington has recognized the importance of manufacturing."

With a jumpstart from AMP, along with a host of national and regional initiatives, advanced manufacturing could play a vital role in the revitalization of our economy. (For an example of one major initiative, see Jon Riley's article, "A PIC for Bob" that describes the strategy for a national network of Predictive Innovation Centers, or PICs).

It was in this context that two recent announcements caught our attention. Both focused on job creation in the manufacturing sector. And they raise an interesting question.

Jobs in West Virginia, Training in New Mexico

Last week, Senator Jay Rockefeller introduced a bill to create jobs in West Virginia and throughout the country by providing workers with training in advanced manufacturing.

Despite its cumbersome name — the High-Tech Job Opportunities Between our Shores ACT (High-Tech JOBS Act) — the bill has some laudable goals. Said Rockefeller, "I have been working with West Virginians and in Congress on new ideas to create jobs, promote manufacturing in our state and throughout the country, and keep American business competitive.... It would create good manufacturing jobs by providing essential training, particularly in communities throughout our state. It's in our best interest to make sure that American workers have the skills they need to get these high-tech jobs."

Several weeks ago, some 1,400 miles to the west of West Virginia, the New Mexico Job Training Incentive Program (JTIP) made its own modest contribution to combat unemployment. JTIP approved $113,653 in funding to help create 37 new jobs in the state. The money will be used to help reimburse companies for a portion of their training costs associated with job creation.

The recent recipients included a radiator manufacturer, a company that tests photovoltaic modules, a manufacturer of gas chemistry analyzers, and a software firm that develops computer-aided engineering applications. All are SMMs (small- to medium-sized manufacturers) and, most likely, all are members of the "missing middle," companies not taking full advantage of advances in digital manufacturing.

In both cases, funds are earmarked for training workers in the skills needed to handle today's more complex, technology-oriented manufacturing jobs. Certainly a worthwhile goal.

Bankrolling Digital Manufacturing

But what about the other half of the equation — allocating funds to SMMs for the adoption of advanced manufacturing technology that will allow them to be more inventive, efficient, and competitive?

By bringing digital manufacturing techniques to bear on their manufacturing processes — for example, cutting cost and time to market by replacing physical prototyping with computer-generated modeling and simulation — these companies will broaden their marketshare and, in the process, generate more jobs.

If manufacturing is to lead the way to a revival of US industry and the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs, the adoption of high-performance computing technology by the SMMs is just as important as training the workforce in the latest advanced manufacturing techniques. They are two sides of the same coin.

Posted by John Kirkley - July 12, 2011 @ 6:15 PM, Pacific Daylight Time

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