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Workforce issues drop to number two concern for manufacturers

For the last several years, when manufacturers gather to discuss issues of concern, the dwindling skilled workforce has repeatedly been at the top of the list. The workforce issues haven't yet been solved, but recent evidence suggests that the Affordable Care Act is now the top concern, not only among manufacturers, but other businesses as well.

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In my various roles as a manufacturing technology consultant, I have been fortunate  to have been invited to participate in many different roundtable and workshop venues in which manufacturing executives discuss their mutual concerns.  These concerns range from trade policy to regulation to taxes to availability of capital. But in every case that I can recall, the top issue always comes around to the need for a skilled workforce.  Manufacturers are being hit from multiple directions with increasing levels of technology, large numbers of retirements, a society predisposed against manufacturing, and declining levels of student achievement.  And all this at home, while foreign competitors graduate large numbers of engineers and technicians who are anxious to work with world-class manufacturing processes. 

Recently I had the opportunity to meet with a large group of workforce professionals who represent thousands of employers.  We did discuss manufacturing workforce issues and the need for workforce technical development.  But this time something was different.  This time everyone's focus was on the impact of the Affordable Care Act.  The anecdotes were consistent across the board and fell into several clearly defined categories.  Companies with slightly more than 50 employees are planning to downsize.  Companies are deferring growth if it requires new hiring.  Companies are planning cutting hours to reduce their fulltime headcount.  Companies are relying more heavily on temporary service agencies.  Healthcare organizations are slowing or setting aside expansion plans and have put hiring freezes on occupations such as Registered Nurses.

I know that optimism ran high at Pack Expo Las Vegas with indications that the economy is on the mend and businesses are planning capital investments. But, will these translate into good jobs and investments in people?  What are you seeing?

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