Crain’s Chicago Business: It’s time to stop blaming the workforce

Illustration by Al VanDeusen,

Illustration by Al VanDeusen,

Crain’s Chicago Business quotes Howard Wial, executive director of the Center for Urban Economic Development, on reasons for the “skills gap” in manufacturing, including manufacturing companies’ refusal to offer the training and pay raises that were available in previous decades.

But that’s just part of the problem, researchers say. Companies have to be willing to train workers, according to a study released in March by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington think tank. In it, Paul Osterman and Andrew Weaver, both of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, conclude that the skills required of today’s manufacturing workforce are “well within the reach of most people.”

Yet, according to a study released last year by MPI Group, a marketing and research firm in Shaker Heights, Ohio, 42 percent of manufacturing companies have zero talent or development programs in place. “The skill development system has broken down in some important ways for production workers,” says Howard Wial, executive director at the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Brookings Institution fellow. “Companies are not making the long-term, firm-specific investments that they used to. They are looking much more to the external market.”

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