Stephen Bullock: Federal bill would boost U.S. manufacturing, workforce

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 21, 2022

By Stephen Bullock

High schools across the state have hosted their graduation ceremonies, some for the first time in two years. While some of these graduates will head to one of North Carolina’s premier institutions of higher education, many others will likely head straight into the workforce.

The rising cost of living means that this generation of workers will need even higher-paying jobs to make ends meet – jobs with salaries that have historically gone to college graduates. The outdated requirement to have a college degree in many fields makes earning a living wage hard for many young workers. By creating an alternative pathway for young people and other underserved populations, North Carolina could make the path to financial independence more accessible.

The good news: North Carolina’s manufacturing industry is growing, and so is the demand for more skilled workers to make products right here at home. Manufacturing is a field where the proper training can offer incredible growth and economic opportunities. But with the manufacturing industry facing a shortage of skilled workers to fill jobs, a robust and coordinated effort is needed to upskill our workforce.

This means that timing couldn’t be better for graduates in North Carolina to enter the workforce and begin a career in manufacturing. The manufacturing sector is an excellent fit for recent high school graduates and other workers wanting to establish well-paying careers. Manufacturing jobs can pay as much as 35% more than jobs in similar fields. And since North Carolina has the largest manufacturing workforce in the Southeast, the state is once again becoming a hub for U.S. manufacturing.

North Carolina is home to 58 community colleges. Along with other specialized training centers, these community colleges have the reach to train and develop the next generation of manufacturing talent. By expanding Pell Grant eligibility to high-quality, short-term programs at community colleges or other specialized training centers, more workers could access the training and skills they need to move into higher-paying jobs in manufacturing.

Innovative apprenticeship programs can also help bridge the gap between education and the on-the-job training necessary to master most skilled jobs. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr has been a strong supporter of creating programs such as Industry-Recognized Apprenticeships to reach new populations of workers and to expand the paid training programs to new industries like manufacturing. His leadership can play an important role in moving North Carolina’s manufacturing workforce forward.

Members of Congress will soon start meeting to negotiate an essential piece of legislation known as the Bipartisan Innovation Act. The BIA builds upon legislation passed by the House and the Senate to revitalize domestic manufacturing, strengthen domestic supply chains, and improve our nation’s economic security. Addressing the talent shortage through workforce development is key to achieving these goals.

The reality is the United States is decades behind our global competitors in advanced manufacturing. A more robust manufacturing talent pipeline is needed to bring manufacturing back home to help reduce rising costs and supply chain issues and improve our economy.

The Bipartisan Innovation Act is a meaningful opportunity to help America revitalize its domestic manufacturing industries, and we need leaders like Senator Burr, a conferee on the Bipartisan Innovation Act, to advocate for the importance of high-quality workforce training and education.

If we want to regain our standing as the leader of the industrialized world, we must invest more in the education and training of North Carolina’s workforce. As Congress negotiates the Bipartisan Innovation Act, I urge our leaders to put partisanship aside and support American workers, jobs, and manufacturing.

Stephen Bullock is president of Power Curbers Companies of Salisbury.