As I travel the country and listen to manufacturers, educators and local, regional and federal officials, I often hear a disconnect when it comes to the issue of the skilled labor gap that we face today.

I know there are solutions to some of the biggest frustrations that I hear about, but they can be difficult to find and even more difficult to understand which ones work best.

Educators are chasing dollars at every level available to them – government, non-governmental organizations and foundations. They are also chasing employers, who need workers to fill jobs that change at the pace of technology. Just one example is the need for workers trained in cyber-physical security with industry-supported knowledge and credentials. But an adequate pipeline of qualified individuals simply doesn’t exist today.

The phenomenon of educators chasing dollars to support programs for the next-generation workforce is not new. But it is a place where those of us in U.S. manufacturing have to exercise diligence to ensure our voices are heard. The competition with other industries is fierce.

Back when I was a college senior, former Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY) was speaking on campus, and he said something that fascinated me then: “In 25 years, 50 percent of today’s college graduates will be working in jobs that don’t even exist today.” What was remarkable then has absolutely been shown to be true over time. 

Just think of how long ago the iPhone was introduced. Just since 2007, more than one million jobs have been created to support the iOS economy – app development, network infrastructure, and on and on.  

A study released earlier this year by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute concluded that by 2025, just nine short years from now, with baby boomers retiring, general economic expansion and new innovations in technology, our skilled labor gap will rise from around 300,000 workers to about two million workers. That means that those workers that we desperately need will be even harder to find.

If you’re an education administrator with an eye toward producing students who have developed the right skills for today’s workforce, the rapid pace of change can make it difficult to know what jobs will need to be filled, what those job functions entail and the required education and certifications. This is the struggle for the educational community in planning for jobs that exist now and will exist in the future.

Fortunately, we developed an online career pathways tool that helps schools understand what’s necessary for about 40 job functions that are most important to AMT member companies. We will be adding new job functions as they develop in additive manufacturing, automation and other advanced technologies. You can find that tool at and it’s a terrific resource for your HR managers as well.

We’ve also listened very intently when it comes to the kind of exhibits, challenges and engaging interactions that we can bring to students and educators who will attend the Smartforce Student Summit at IMTS 2016. We’re excited about the partners who will join us in the summit this year and we believe that it will give schools and students a better understanding of opportunities in manufacturing. You can direct schools in your local area to register at

There’s one other important thing you can do to help: Some school systems struggle to find the funding for bus transportation to make it to the summit. If your company is located in Illinois or in the five-state region near Chicago (Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa), listen to your educators, and if you can, help them get their kids to McCormick Place. Reaching out to the educational community is a sign that we care about a healthy future for U.S. manufacturing, our local communities and the nation. 

For more frequent updates about Smartforce development, the Smartforce Student Summit and community outreach, follow me on Twitter at @GregoryAJones.