Ghosh: State must attract, retain workforce

Unless we take bold action now, more than two million manufacturing jobs across the country could go unfilled by 2030, costing our economy up to $1 trillion each year.

That’s according to the most recent quarterly survey of manufacturers done by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). The results indicate that nearly 75% of respondents view attracting and retaining a quality workforce as their primary business challenge, outpacing both increased raw material costs (60%) and supply chain issues (56%).

Nearly 60% of respondents said not having enough employees will affect their ability to make investments or expand in the future.

A shortage of skilled workers continues to present significant operational challenges for manufacturers here in Michigan and across the nation. As our state invests billions to attract advanced manufacturing businesses, closing the skills gap will require strengthening our talent pipeline for production and professional trades workers and for STEM-related fields.

A key driver of the skills gap is an aging workforce. Baby boomers make up nearly a quarter of the manufacturing workforce nationwide, and all of them will reach retirement age by 2030. Combined with waning interest in manufacturing careers among young people, we have our work cut out for us to attract and retain the talent needed to keep up with advancing technology, fuel future growth and even to achieve our net-zero goals.

I pay close attention to the public policy debate over workforce development strategies and often hear the argument that we should move away from encouraging young people to pursue careers on the production line or in the professional trades. That instead, we should push them toward careers that require a four-year degree and offer higher earning potential over their lifetime.

I don’t view it as an “either-or” proposition. Both career tracks are essential to supporting Michigan’s future economy. At Hemlock Semiconductor, we have jobs right now for college graduates and for those who prefer a path with little or no college debt that results in rewarding work with wages and benefits that will support a family. The fact is employers in emerging sectors of the clean energy economy must have a robust pipeline across the talent spectrum to make these ventures a success.