America’s Manufacturing Workforce: Make or Buy?


Do you like to barbeque steak on your backyard grill, or do you like to buy it ready-to-eat?  Do you mow your lawn yourself or hire someone to do it for you?  Will you build your new mutt’s doghouse or buy it at the local pet store?

Making things versus buying them is always a hot topic of conversation.  Whether one is standing in line at Home Depot or at the Food Lion, neighborly chit-chat often turns to whether you make your own consumables or buy them, and the answers are as variegated as the vegetables in your home garden.

In the business world, however, this conversation can turn bad fast, devolving into a kind of us-versus-them argument when it comes to discussions about hiring temporary or permanent employees.  But it doesn’t have to.

The “either/or” hiring debate is based on a false premise that one must either stick to a variable cost structure with workers (temporary) or a fixed one (FTE).  But the truth, as always, lies in the middle, and smart employers know that their hiring strategies should be both innovative and flexible. This extends to whether to recruit new hires or to train existing workers in new skills to keep them up-to-date with new manufacturing technologies.  Understanding these technologies’ potential and then bringing them onto the operations floor is no quick decision – and deciding if you have or need to have the right-skilled employees to run these technologies isn’t either.   To determine whether to quickly “buy” employees or provide training to create a talent pipeline  it helps to separate thinking into two categories:  short-term needs or long-term needs.  But what do you do if you are thinking long-term, but have some critical short-term pressures to expand your capacity?  A new report prepared for NIST MEP by the Corporation for A Skilled Workforce gives you some options to consider.

This new report is intended to dispel the notion that an adequate supply of skilled employees is beyond the reach of American manufacturers. In fact, there are several choices American manufacturers can make to ensure a pipeline of talent for the foreseeable future. But manufacturers must be strategic in their thinking and rigorous in their execution of these options. With that in mind, America’s SMMs can fill their skilled worker gaps before they become insurmountable challenges. To get a copy of the report, go here , and see what manufacturers around the country are doing to create and perpetuate their regional talent pipelines.

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Stacey Wagner

Guest blogger Stacey Jarrett Wagner has more than 20 years of experience in workforce development, conducting research and providing strategic thinking and technical assistance on workforce development issues.

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