Manufacturing Alliance Names Director of Workforce Development

The Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance has named Sharon Harrison its Director of Workforce Development and Community Partnerships. It is a new position that will facilitate workforce solutions among manufacturers, CareerTech schools and other groups to help ensure a strong manufacturing sector.

“The challenge of finding and retaining skilled employees remains a difficult task,” says Dave Rowland, president of the Manufacturing Alliance. “Our organization is in a unique positon to more deeply involve industry leaders in solutions and build programs that will benefit manufacturers directly. Sharon is ideal for this work with years of public and private experience training an evolving workforce.”

According to a recent report by the National Association of Manufacturers, nearly three-and-a-half million American manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next decade. The emerging skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled. There are two major contributing factors to the widening gap—baby boomer retirements and economic expansion. An estimated 2.7 million jobs are likely to be needed as a result of retirements of the existing workforce, while 700,000 jobs are likely to be created due to natural business growth.

In addition to retirements and economic expansion, other factors contribute to the shortage of skilled workforce, including the loss of embedded knowledge due to movement of experienced workers. Also problematic are a negative image of the manufacturing industry among younger generations, lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills among workers, and a gradual decline of technical education programs in public high schools.

“With CEOs and manufacturing executives around the world identifying talent-driven innovation as the number one determinant of competitiveness,” Harrison says, “it stands to reason the implications of such a shortage are significant and can have a material impact on manufacturers’ growth and profitability.”

“The Manufacturing Alliance has the ability to leverage current recruitment and skills development programs in the state and build stronger relationships with manufacturing companies,” Harrison says. “Our state CareerTech schools are the best in the country and we can better involve the manufacturing community as we prepare young people for high-tech, high-wage industry careers. But to fully address the skills agenda, we not only have to create workers with the skills required to meet tomorrow’s advanced manufacturing requirements, we must also develop and engage existing workforces and key decision-makers.”

Harrison is currently completing her Doctorate in Education, researching the Oklahoma Manufacturing Skills Agenda. For the past two years she has been an extension agent for the Manufacturing Alliance where she worked with dozens of companies on a wide-range of improvement projects. Before that, Harrison was director of experiential learning at the University of Central Oklahoma where she promoted “learning by doing” and helped students engage in the community. She has worked in private industry, coordinating and developing workforce training initiatives for major corporations both nationally and internationally.

“Sharon has the understanding and experience to make a real difference for Oklahoma manufacturers,” Rowland says. “There isn’t one specific solution to overcome the skills issue. A combination of strategies must be employed in concert to address current and future needs. Sharon will bring together Oklahoma manufacturers, communities, government and academia to provide a foundation to mitigate workforce challenges.