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America Works Act Targets Manufacturing Workforce

CMAP's recent manufacturing cluster drill-down report found that metropolitan Chicago's manufacturers are in the midst of a strong resurgence, and they are well-positioned to compete in today's globalized world. However, manufacturers face significant workforce challenges, including an aging workforce, difficulty recruiting new workers, and the need to upgrade workers' skills adapt to increasingly tech-saturated factories.

The recently introduced American Manufacturing Efficiency and Retaining Investment, Collaboration, Achievement (AMERICA) Works Act, H.R. 497, addresses mounting manufacturing needs for skilled production workers. The bill would allow some federal workforce and education programs, primarily funded through the Workforce Investment Act, to prioritize funding for industry recognized post-secondary credential programs that cover a wide range of topics from basic production tasks and safety to advanced metalworking skills.

H.R. 497 highlights several emerging workforce trends and recognizes the importance of industry-recognized credentials in manufacturing. First, firms prefer to hire employees that already have the key skills or specialized training needed to work with commonly used factory technology and advanced processes. Second, many skilled manufacturers are retiring and will need to be replaced -- in the next 15 years, metropolitan Chicago will lose up to 40 percent of its production workers to retirement. Moreover, manufacturing workers generally are much more mobile than in the past. Industry and workers alike acknowledge that most workers will not stay in a single company or industry for the duration of their careers, and credentialing provides a way for workers to showcase skills that have applications across different manufacturing firms and industries.

Many area training programs, community colleges, and high schools are working to address the region's acute workforce challenges. H.R. 497 could increase the resources available to the region for training its manufacturing workforce. The bill currently resides in the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Trade; its companion bill S. 453 has been read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. CMAP will continue to monitor the bill's progress.