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Lack of skilled workers, not oil prices, hurts U.S. economy’s growth most, say manufacturers

Dearborn, MI -- In a remarkable counter to conventional wisdom, more leading manufacturing executives today believe...


Dearborn, MI — In a remarkable counter to conventional wisdom, more leading manufacturing executives today believe the lack of skilled labour and management skills in the work force — not current oil prices or the weak U.S. dollar — most hurts the growth of the U.S. economy.

In a new poll conducted by sponsors of the Fabtech International & AWS Welding Show including Metalform, 27% of the executives cited the lack of employee skills as the leading obstacle to growth. Ranked second was oil prices (cited by 20%), followed by tax policies (11%), weak U.S. dollar (10%), the financial commitment in Iraq (9%) and the credit crisis (7%).

“In many respects, this finding is not surprising as we have heard for many months from leaders in the metal forming, fabricating and welding industries that their biggest challenge today is finding skilled workers, especially young people, who can tackle the increasingly sophisticated tasks required in manufacturing today,” said John Catalano, show manager at Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), one of the event’s sponsors. “In fact, one keynote speech at the upcoming exposition by renowned inventor Dean Kamen will address this very issue, and several seminars will explore the topic.”

Also sponsored by the American Welding Society (AWS) and Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International (FMA) and supported by industry partner the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the Fabtech International & AWS Welding Show takes place in Las Vegas October 6-8, 2008. It is the largest event in North America dedicated to showcasing a full spectrum of metal forming, fabricating, stamping, tube and pipe, and welding equipment and technology.

In the poll, the executives also were asked to name the two best ways to attract greater numbers of young people to manufacturing careers. In this case, the resounding response was not a surprise — 58% said competitive wages. More parental and teacher encouragement ranked second at 27%, followed by offering more relevant science and math programs in high school and college (23%) and greater use of computer and high tech skills (22%).

“Those last three findings underscore the need for our educational system to step up and emphasize curriculum that can better prepare students for positions available today in manufacturing,” added Catalano.

Product innovation and production efficiencies are priorities for manufacturers, too, according to the executives polled. Some 22% said developing more innovative products and 21% cited improving production efficiencies as the one action companies must take to better compete in the global marketplace. Also ranked highly were offering more cost-competitive products and responding more effectively to overseas competition, each named by 15% of the respondents.

The 2008 show also will include a Metalform Pavilion that will display innovations in stamping technology. This pavilion was added as a result of the recently announced new strategic alliance with the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA), the producer of Metalform shows since 1981.

The web-based poll surveyed manufacturers who receive e-newsletters from SME and FMA. One hundred and sixty-six executives answered the poll.

For more information about the shows, visit www.sme.org/fabtech, www.fmafabtech.com, www.aws.org/show, or www.metalform.com.