SUSIE GHARIB: President Obama is on the road this week making a pitch for boosting manufacturing in the U.S. His message is the same one he shared during Tuesday`s state of the union — tax breaks for companies that create jobs here in America. In the past few years, the manufacturing sector has created roughly 300,000 jobs. Many factories large and small have help wanted signs for even more workers. But, as Diane Eastabrook reports, tax breaks aren`t necessarily what manufacturers need. They need workers with 21st century skills.
DIANE EASTABROOK, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Meyer Tool and Manufacturing in Oak Lawn, Illinois, isn`t an old-style factory. The company builds high tech equipment for some of the nation`s most renowned research laboratories.
EDWARD BONNEMA, V.P. OPERATIONS, MEYER TOOL & MANUFACTURING: What we have here is three distribution boxes or valve boxes that are going out to Argonne National Laboratories.
EASTABROOK: But operations Vice President Edward Bonnema and President Eileen Cunningham now face perhaps the biggest challenge in Meyer`s 45-year history — finding machinists and technicians who are skilled in math and reading blueprints.
BONNEMA: We`ve had openings for six or more months in some of our areas. We`ve always had the ability to bring in and do more work, but we`ve been limited by workers and our resources.
EASTABROOK: Manufacturing has been a bright spot in the U.S., growing three times as fast as the overall economy in the past couple of years. But, ironically, a sector which shed nearly 2.5 million jobs in the recession can`t seem to find enough workers to fill an estimated 600,000 openings at factories. Chicago Federal Reserve bank senior economist William Strauss knows the primary reason.
WILLIAM STRAUSS, SR. ECONOMIST, CHICAGO FEDERAL RESERVE BANK: In part, it`s a mismatch between those who lost their jobs not having the kind of skills that are needed in more of a 21st century type of manufacturing environment.
EASTABROOK: Freedman Seating Company in Chicago reflects that disconnect. The 145-year-old company which makes bus and truck seats has no trouble finding lower skilled employees to do assembly work, but company President Craig Freedman says he is having trouble finding machinists skilled at operating metal-cutting lasers.
CRAIG FREEDMAN, PRESIDENT, FREEDMAN SEATING CO.: They will program based on a blueprint — this configuration. They will enter it into a computer and then press the button and it goes.
EASTABROOK: The National Association of Manufactures says larger companies are developing programs in-house or at community colleges to train new hires for more complex factory jobs. But Emily Derocco, president of The Manufacturing Institute, a think tank, says many firms can`t afford do that.
EMILY DEROCCO, PRESIDENT, THE MANUFACTURING INSTITUTE: The vast majority of manufacturers are small and midsize companies. They don`t have the capacity to internalize more structural costs in their operation and still remain competitive in the global market.
EASTABROOK: Interest in manufacturing as a career is another problem. Tomorrow, I`ll tell you how one Chicago high school is trying to change that. Diane Eastabrook, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, Chicago.