SBA Administrator Karen Mills, Darlene Miller Op-Ed from Star Tribune

"Minnesota's 'Right Skills Now' program is key to matching workers with today high-tech jobs. U.S. manufacturing has created 275,000 jobs since January 2010 -- but thousands of manufacturing jobs in this country still are going unfilled. About 80 percent of America's manufacturers are having trouble finding the right people with the right skills to work in their companies and on their factory floors. With millions of people looking for work, this is a problem that America can and should solve. In the 21st century, it takes more than just a high school diploma to work in many manufacturing fields. Companies are looking for well-trained workers to operate cutting-edge equipment, machines and tools. Recognizing that this mismatch exists in the manufacturing workforce, President Obama recently asked manufacturers to team up with educators, especially those at community and technical colleges.

The goal of this Skills for America's Future initiative is to create a fast-track credentialing system for up to half a million additional workers in advanced manufacturing across the country. Minnesota is leading the way with a pilot program announced last week called Right Skills Now. During Minnesota Manufacturing Week, we brought together business leaders across the state in manufacturing along with state-level education officials. The President's Jobs and Competitiveness Council and the U.S. Small Business Administration -- represented by the two of us -- also participated. Our goal is to build on Minnesota's manufacturing strengths, particularly in machining.

We want current, relevant, focused, and intensive training to be the standard -- not the exception -- at our local schools and colleges. Specifically, Right Skills Now will be a combination of a 16-week curriculum and an eight-week apprenticeship at a local manufacturer. Our vision is that every hour of this program will provide the trainee with a new piece of knowledge or a specific skill that is highly attractive to an advanced manufacturer. This will result in a win-win, giving the trainee a good-paying job in a matter of months while helping an employer meet a pressing need on the shop floor. If we can make that happen many times over, more of Minnesota's working families will have greater economic security and we will strengthen the regional economy. We can't stop there. If this pilot program is successful, we will work to replicate it on a national scale.

We can expand it to other areas of advanced manufacturing, such as production and welding. And we will explore sector-based certification in areas ranging from aerospace to food processing, depending on a region's particular strengths. Ideas like Right Skills Now can go a long way toward reducing unemployment and strengthening our economy, especially when combined with powerful proposals like the American Jobs Act. Let's empower our manufacturers and the people who want to work for them. Together we can give more Americans the right skills to find the right job. Right now.

Karen Mills is the administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Darlene Miller is the CEO of Burnsville-based Permac Industries, a manufacturer of custom precision parts for customers worldwide. Miller is also a member of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness."