December 6, 2013
Despite the economic challenges facing the United States following the financial crisis, recent economic developments provide new hope for the future of the US economy. Cheaper energy from newly accessible domestic shale deposits is driving down the cost of manufacturing. Labor factors that once drove production overseas during the 1980s through the early 2000s are slowly beginning to reverse. The US can once again become a force in advanced manufacturing.

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This new Atlantic Council report, from the Global Business and Economics Program, identifies policies aimed to improve skills which will improve American manufacturing competitiveness for decades to come. Once discounted by many economists and policymakers as passé, manufacturing—and especially advanced manufacturing—presents an opportunity to foster economic growth and create skilled jobs for those countries that can seize it.

Despite these positive trends, it is far from clear that the United States is prepared to take full advantage of this opportunity. New academic research by the Atlantic Council and the University of Maryland identifies clear evidence of a skills gap, and also suggests ways to help ensure the future competitiveness of the American workforce. Global shifts in economic power and energy production are driving an intense discussion across the country and in Washington about how to best equip workers with the necessary skills to support a manufacturing renaissance. A national strategy to educate and prepare the American workforce to succeed in the jobs of today and tomorrow is urgently needed.

Developing a skilled workforce is a monumental task that demands that we rethink our notions about the roles of government and the private sector in training workers. This policy brief highlights some international and sector-specific best practices in skills training that the US can build upon. These forward thinking policy recommendations include:

  1. Establishing a National Commission on the Manufacturing Workforce (NCMW) to develop a clear vision of what training programs are working;
  2. Implementing a nationwide job training strategy based on Public-Private Partnerships, and;
  3. Launching a cross-national training methods institute that analyzes and improves the effectiveness of existing training programs and provides successful templates for others to follow.

The task ahead is to bring together the lessons derived from these efforts, match them with research that explains what works, and develop the business strategies and government policies that will educate the skilled workers of a new manufacturing age. We need nothing less than a nationwide campaign to improve the manufacturing workforce by bringing together government and business strategies.

The US can lead the world toward open markets and democratic systems best only if its own economy is strong bolstered by a robust, thriving workforce.

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