Business

Report warns New England on manufacturing

Regional approach sought to preserve high-tech advantage

New England’s competitive edge in advanced manufacturing could erode over time if a regional approach to job training and other measures are not implemented by the six states, according to a report due Wednesday.

The region is considered a leader in advanced manufacturing, which relies heavily on cutting-edge machinery, software, and robotics to make sophisticated products, ranging from medical devices to semiconductors, according to the report, produced by Deloitte Consulting LLP for the New England Council, a business group. But the study, which is a follow-up to a 2010 report, cautioned that there are persistent challenges facing the industry.

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In particular, the report warns of a “skills gap” between available workers and what employers increasingly need to make sophisticated, higher-end products.

Most jobs in advanced manufacturing, which usually pay more than traditional manufacturing jobs, require computer, software, math, and other special skills to operate the machinery and laboratory-like equipment.

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“Coupled with a generation of incumbent [manufacturing] workers nearing retirement, the concerns over where to find and how to train the next generation of advanced manufacturing workers is reaching critical levels of need,” the report says.

Advanced manufacturing in New England encompasses sectors such as aerospace, defense, signal processing, navigation, optics, biotechnology, medical devices, precision machinery, and other technology-driven sectors, the report notes.

To bolster advanced manufacturing in the region, the report recommends:

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 Creating “program offices” that would track education, job training, and other programs designed to promote advanced manufacturing. The offices would also share information with program offices in other New England states.

  Jointly applying for federal funds to create a New England “advanced manufacturing center” that would act as a business incubator for companies that want to collaborate on industry issues. In 2013, President Obama launched the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, an initiative that’s already funding centers in Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee.

  Expanding partnership and apprentice programs between companies and schools, including community colleges.

  Rebranding advanced manufacturing to make it more attractive to young workers, parents, and school administrators. Referring to advanced manufacturing as part of a “maker revolution” or “maker movement” could help eliminate an unfair stigma that manufacturing is dirty, dangerous, and low-paying.

James Brett, president of the New England Council, said he hopes the report will help galvanize support for advanced manufacturing in the region.

“We can’t rest on our laurels,” said Brett. “This is a call to action. Today's advanced manufacturing is not the dark and dirty manufacturing of years past.”

Brett’s group on Tuesday briefed Ron Walker, Governor Charlie Baker’s secretary of labor and workforce development, about the report’s findings and recommendations.

‘Today's advanced manufacturing is not the dark and dirty manufacturing of years past.’

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“The NEC report confirms what we have heard anecdotally from employers, that a skills gap exists in advanced manufacturing,” Walker said in a statement.

He said the Baker administration is “poised to deal with the skills gap on two fronts” — through a newly created “workforce skills cabinet,” which would address education and training programs for all industries, and a new task force that would focus on how to find jobs for those who face chronic unemployment.

Jay Fitzgerald can be reached at jayfitzmedia@gmail.com.
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