An open letter to Isabel Guzman, the 27th Administrator of the Small Business Administration.
Over the past 75 years, industry shifts toward offshoring and the growing lack of skilled labor have severely weakened the nation’s advanced manufacturing capabilities. This has particularly impacted small businesses’ abilities to find qualified workers and compete effectively domestically and overseas.
These weaknesses were exposed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of skilled labor and our lengthy, complicated overseas supply chains culminated into a total collapse of product production and delivery. Food, hand sanitizer, masks, disinfectants, toiletries and more were nearly impossible to find for everyday citizens.
A year later, what has changed to prevent another similar event from occurring? Whether it be from another health crisis, natural disaster or conflict, the core issue has not been addressed: the United States is over reliant on overseas manufacturing and there is an extreme lack of skilled labor nationally to support our economic independence and resiliency.
The support provided to small businesses under the American Rescue Plan is commendable for stemming the economic bleeding causes by the pandemic, but equal attention must be allocated to providing small businesses the tools needed to survive in a post-pandemic environment. There were more than 500,000 unfilled manufacturing positions before the pandemic. If we do not begin creating a national training infrastructure now, that gap will widen to 2.4 million positions by 2028 and we will continue to fall behind globally.
Meanwhile, nearly 200,000 US veterans honorably leave the armed forces each year, many of whom struggle to find work, purpose and financial stability. Establishing a nationally viable training pipeline would help alleviate the crushing skills gap harming manufacturing businesses small and large, as well as develop a real pathway to a new career for veterans without options post-service.
The SBA has a critical role to play in stabilizing the manufacturing sector and ensuring the industry is reinforced to prevent future supply chain disruptions, breakdowns and economic bleeding. To do this, the sector needs SBA support to:
- Champion national training programs that lead to nationally recognized credentials, allowing American companies to fill their specific skills gaps with objectively certified talent.
- Engage and financially support nationally scalable programs with accelerated courses of instruction to immediately address the massive shortage of manufacturing employees across America.
- Streamline the service to sector transition. Thousands of veterans leave the service yearly. Equipped with the right training, they can alleviate the skills gap damaging businesses nationwide.
- Create a National Training Assistance Program to provide financial assistance for:
- Employees as they engage in vocational training to include affordable childcare, food, transportation, and housing.
- Employers to incentivize the hiring of employees that may be academically or credentialed appropriately but lack on the job training or work experience.
As the founder and CEO of Workshops for Warriors, an accredited 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to training, certifying and placing US veterans in advanced manufacturing careers, and the founder of VetPowered, an advanced manufacturing company named the 2020 Veteran Owned Business of the Year by the SBA, I have witnessed firsthand the difficulties businesses in the sector have faced in finding and deploying skilled talent, before and during the pandemic. I, and other business leaders, call on the SBA to take immediate steps to rebuild America’s economic resiliency through a well-equipped and trained manufacturing force.
Hernán Luis y Prado
About the Author:
Hernán Luis y Prado is the Founder and CEO of Workshops for Warriors, which trains, certifies and places veterans in advanced manufacturing careers. Contact at wfw.org.