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Tennessee manufacturers need skilled workers

07/19/2017  |  By: John Mark McDougal, CPA, Shareholder, Practice Leader Audit and Advisory

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If you’re interested in finding a job in a growing industry in a place where employers and state government are eager to help you get the skills you need, look no further than the manufacturing industry in Tennessee.

There has been strong growth in manufacturing in the state for several years with thousands of jobs added, and companies are eager to find qualified employees for their operations. In a recent national survey, 60 percent of Nashville manufacturers, ranging from 50 to 500 employees, cited a lack of qualified labor as a barrier to growth. That compares with 47 percent of similar employers nationwide.

Growth is only one of the factors creating a challenge in finding qualified employees. Employers also face the need to replace aging baby boomers who are near retirement. About a quarter of manufacturing employees in the state will retire in the next decade, according to Randy Boyd, former Tennessee Economic & Community Development commissioner.

Some potential employees are also cautious about pursuing a manufacturing career because of the disruption the industry experienced in the last recession, although they may be surprised by improved compensation and professional growth opportunities in the current environment.

Employees are needed in a wide range of categories. Some are fairly obvious, from production employees to plant managers to leaders and professionals in engineering, IT and quality assurance. But the need extends to other fields, such as finance and human resources.

Recruiters are on the hunt for employees who currently possess qualifications for open positions, as well as those who could meet employer needs with additional training. Some growth areas include quality assurance, purchasing, mechanical (such as product engineering) and production. Tennessee is also a hotbed for Japanese-owned manufacturers, especially in regards to auto and auto-related manufacturing.

Employers are looking for qualified workers across the state, including Middle Tennessee, Chattanooga and Knoxville, and across the Southeast, including Atlanta.

Manufacturing is quite different these days from the image many people have of plants from years ago. Technology has advanced rapidly, changing the skill sets many employees need as robotics, hydraulics, mechatronics and electronics have come to the fore.

Both employers and state government have stepped forward to help fill the gap. Companies operating in Tennessee have partnered with area schools. This year, Nissan opened a training center in the new Tennessee College of Applied Technology campus in Smyrna, which is across the street from Nissan’s factory. General Motors has sponsored camps. Bridgestone has helped develop a local high school automotive program. Many other companies offer in-house training to advance the skills of their current workers and bring new employees up to speed.

Gov. Bill Haslam has launched the Drive to 55 initiative, the goal of which is to have 55 percent of Tennesseans possess a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2025. Tennessee Promise, which covers the first two years of college tuition for high-school graduates who meet certain requirements, makes seeking that post-secondary education possible. And the state’s Reconnect program helps adults who want to return to school by offering financial assistance. An important part of that initiative is fueling the growth of manufacturing in the state.

"We want to be known as a state that makes things," Haslam has said.

People who enjoy making things — or helping those who do — now have an excellent opportunity to join in.

John Mark McDougal is the shareholder in charge of LBMC’s audit and advisory practice. He also serves as lead partner to the manufacturing and distribution industry. Reach him at jmcdougal@lbmc.com or 615-309-2268.

Originally printed in The Tennessean.