Many U.S. manufacturers are employing advanced technology to enhance productivity and competitiveness, but few are taking the steps necessary to reconfigure their human resource requirements to take advantage of technological innovation.
This is one of the findings of the second Coopers and Lybrand survey of American manufacturing titled "Made in America II - The People Dimension." Coopers and Lybrand is a worldwide accounting and consulting firm that has an office in Salt Lake City.Company officials said the results of the survey point up manufacturers' anticipated inability to secure skilled workers needed to make technological investments pay off.
The survey was based on interviews, conducted for the company by Louis Harris and Associates, with 400 senior manufacturing executives at firms with sales of $200 million or more and 400 plant managers at facilities with 300 or more employees.
While a majority of the respondents cited as a primary concern "training and retaining skilled systems experts and engineers," a large percentage said their companies haven't done enough to address this issue. This is despite widespread feeling the situation will become a serious problem in the next five years.
Some 86 percent of the respondents cited "management's tendency to take a short-term strategic view" as a serious problem.
The majority of executives and plant managers reported current success of recruiting and training the skilled hourly paid workers they need. The situation is expected to become more problematic in the next few years, the study said.
"As a result of a shrinking and shifting labor pool, most manufacturers anticipate a shortage of skilled workers five years from now. In addition, more than 80 percent of those surveyed predicted a demand for higher skills for all workers in the future," the study said.
"This shifting presents a competitive challenge for U.S. manufacturers," said Henry J. Johansson, chairman of Coopers and Lybrand's manufacturing industry practice, who designed the study.
"In order to regain a leadership position in the world marketplace, American manufacturers need to implement specific programs for recruiting, training and retaining skilled workers," Johansson said.
About 84 percent of the executives and 83 percent of the plant managers advocated customized training programs as one solution to provide adequate workers. Other solutions are based upon a greater alliance between the business and education communities.
More than 70 percent of those surveyed said elementary and high schools should teach the basic skills workers needs. Some 73 percent of the executives and 68 percent of the plant managers cited a need for more and better technical schools.
A majority of those surveyed said advanced technology cannot be integrated into the manufacturing plants unless the environment is improved. Some elements of the reform are improved communication between workers and management, improvement in the overall quality of working life, more participatory management, greater employee autonomy and control and more flexible personnel practices.