June 16, 2014

Report advocates help for smaller manufacturers

A commission that looks at the future of manufacturing in the United States is pushing a series of six proposals it says will help accelerate innovation at the country's small and medium-sized manufacturers.

A report by the Milstein Commission, out of the University of Virginia's Miller Center, recommends government-backed loans to help these small and mid-sized firms hire workers they need to expand, and to improve the skills of high school students with expanded technology and engineering certification programs. It also suggests creation of a national supply chain that will allow manufacturers to fill infrastructure gaps in a cost-effective manner and keep up with rapid changes around emerging technologies.

The main goal, according to a statement from the commission, "is producing quality employees for our workforce so (small and medium-sized manufacturers) can grow, prosper and provide more jobs, higher pay, better benefits, local and regional economic growth and a bigger, more competitive American economy: That is the social benefit, first and foremost."

The Milstein Commission is a bipartisan panel chaired by former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a Republican, and former Indiana governor and U.S. senator Evan Bayh, a Democrat.

The commission also recommends the following:

  • "Upside-down" degrees to connect classroom learning with on-the-job learning. These would allow students to transfer accredited technical training, work experience, military training, or community college coursework as credit toward a bachelor's degree.
  • A regular survey of employers to build a more efficient skilled labor force. This effort, commissioned by state governments, would determine current and projected skills needs, and allow businesses, policymakers, and educators to continually tailor their programs to forestall projected imbalances between skills and employer needs.
  • An initiative out of the U.S. Commerce Department to connect small and medium-sized manufacturers with the latest technological innovations.

"Over the next decade, advanced technologies, major shifts in global demand, and greater emphasis on customization will fundamentally redefine manufacturing and create significant growth potential for" small to medium-sized manufacturers, said Gerald L. Baliles, director and CEO of the Miller Center and a former Democratic governor of Virginia, added in the commission's statement. "But for American firms to thrive, we must out-innovate the global competition."

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