President Obama has called for revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, while also promising to create 20,000 jobs for unemployed veterans. Both are laudable goals. So why not combine them?
Right now 600,000 manufacturing jobs are going begging because the highly skilled people needed to fill them are not available.
That hardly seems rational. With unemployment unacceptably high and many skeptics writing off the future of U.S. manufacturing, we have more than a half-million such jobs right here in America with no one trained to fill them.
Obama says he wants to spend $1 billion to create police and public works jobs for veterans. But for that same amount of money, he could train those 20,000 veterans in a 26-week program to maintain the automation, machines and technology used in today's highly productive "smart factories."
That's 20,000 more people working in high-paying jobs in the private sector who would help revitalize America's manufacturing, keep employment in the United States and maintain national security by expanding our critical, high-tech production capabilities.
The shortage of skilled workers is one of the top challenges slowing industrial growth in the United States. Technical colleges won't be able to keep up with demand as an estimated 2.6 million people retire from the manufacturing sector over the next decade.
It's time for business and government to work together in a public-private partnership. Obama can boldly refurbish America's rust belt by awarding the $1 billion grant to train veterans in the manufacturing jobs of the future.
The rigorous 26 weeks of training will guarantee a job for these vets and quite possibly the kind of lifetime employment that results in a good life for them and their children.
This is not a risky proposition. My company, Rockwell Automation, and others like it around the country take pride in our ability to train workers for lifetime jobs working on today's super-sophisticated assembly lines.
The returning vets waiting to take these jobs will see shiny new factories that have made quantum leaps in terms of safety and cleanliness from the dingy and dangerous plants their grandparents may have worked in after World War II.
And bear in mind that every new job created in a smart factory also creates three or more non-manufacturing jobs essential to supply and support it. The 20,000 veterans who could be trained to work in these plants will create an additional 60,000 to 80,000 jobs in fields other than manufacturing because of that multiplier effect.
The non-manufacturing jobs I am talking about support smart factories and often pay as much as the manufacturing jobs themselves. For example, when that smart factory triples or quadruples production using new machines, robots and technology operated by these skilled veterans, it triples or quadruples the number of well-paying logistics and transportation jobs to distribute those products.
More computers in factories create more high-paying information technology sales, support and service jobs. Entrepreneurs are also creating jobs in businesses that analyze manufacturing data to make factories run faster, cheaper and better.
Obama and Congress can start the United States down the road toward this success story with a wise decision to fund smart manufacturing skills training for 20,000 veterans. It will help our deserving veterans, and go a long way toward making American manufacturing the world's competitive leader once again.
Keith D. Nosbusch is chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation, based in Milwaukee.