New England has a proud history of pushing the limits. Whether in the field of education, government, business or manufacturing, our six states have revolutionized society throughout history. Today, we are poised on the threshold of another revolution – in advanced manufacturing.
But what are we going to make in five years… in ten years? Will our advancements be in biotechnology, medical devices, green technology, or something else? How can we position our region to be the leader in these specialized areas? A recent report produced by The New England Council and Deloitte Consulting, “Advanced to Advantageous: The Case for New England’s Manufacturing Revolution,” details our strengths and the challenges we must overcome to capitalize on our region’s competitive advantages in these fields. According to the report, the Massachusetts Second Congressional District is home to two regions in greater New England that are particularly competitive in advanced manufacturing sectors – the I-91 Corridor and the Blackstone Valley Corridor.
Having visited many manufacturers located in these regions of my district, I am constantly reminded of the significant differences between the manufacturing of yesterday and the manufacturing of today. When talking about manufacturing, many reference the manufacturing of one hundred years ago, replete with low-skilled, poorly paying, dirty and dangerous jobs. Manufacturing jobs of today are highly skilled, exciting, safe and well-paying. But there simply aren’t enough skilled workers to meet the demand that has been created by the growth in advanced manufacturing.
I am encouraged by collaborative efforts within Massachusetts to strengthen and modernize our manufacturing base. The Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP), in particular, has been an important resource for manufacturers looking to identify and overcome strategic, operational, and workforce challenges. MassMEP has placed a special focus on developing a next-generation workforce through training opportunities, apprenticeship programs, and collaborations with colleges and universities in Massachusetts.
Additionally, our Regional Employment Boards and Community Colleges play a critical role in training and re-training the workers necessary to fill these jobs. Within our education system, vocational and technical education programs are creating pathways for students into advanced manufacturing. Programs such as Connecting Activities, a Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education program, links education, business and workforce development partners through paid internships. These internships provide students with valuable work experience and enable employers to determine if a student is the correct fit. But the competition among employers for highly skilled workers is fierce. In fact, employers across city, and even state, lines are competing for the same small pool of skilled workers. If we are going to get serious about the future of advanced manufacturing in our region, we must work collaboratively across state lines to develop a skilled workforce.
According to the report, there were approximately 18,000 unfilled advanced manufacturing jobs in New England in 2011 and 2012. Working together, New England can develop the workforce necessary to fill those jobs and expand our workforce – potentially reversing the flow of jobs overseas. That’s why I was pleased to see that the Advanced to Advantageous report recommended that New England pursue a federally supported advanced manufacturing hub under the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) in order to address industry challenges and train the workforces necessary to fill these jobs.
In January 2013, the White House’s National Science and Technology Council released the “National Network for Manufacturing Innovation: A preliminary Design” report. Prepared by the federal Interagency Advance Manufacturing National Program Office after a nationwide outreach effort, this report laid the groundwork for President Obama’s creation of a nationwide NNMI to scale up advanced manufacturing technologies and processes. On December 16, 2014, the President signed the Revitalize American Manufacturing Act into law, creating NNMI. As co-chair of the Northeast Midwest Congressional Coalition, which focuses on strengthening manufacturing in our region, I strongly believe that a regional advanced manufacturing center would increase regional cohesion and improve interstate partnerships between government, educators, and industry.
Despite the great recession, advanced manufacturing in industry clusters such as aerospace, defense, precision machining, medical devices and biotechnology has flourished. As we have done throughout history, New England has the opportunity to be revolutionary once again. It is time for our region to capitalize on our competitive advantage. It is time for advanced manufacturing to take its place in our storied history of revolutions. Jim McGovern is a member of the United States House of Representatives, representing Massachusetts’s 2nd congressional district.