The Manufacturing Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers today are hosting the National Manufacturing Talent Development Roundtable here in Washington. There are so many good speakers from manufacturing, education, workforce training and the foundation world that the ideas are flowing fast and furious.

John Engler (right) speaks as Steven Ruffa, Lean Dynamics Research, looks on.

But as NAM President John Engler pointed out in his opening remarks, the real key is action, doing. After all, in today’s competitive world, for manufacturers it’s do-or-die. And it’s up to us.

In an exchange with Grant Aldonas of Split Rock International, who moderated today’s discussions, Engler observed:

I think the strength of the individuals in the room today is that there is almost no one here who believes that the answer is in Washington. This is really something that will be done locally, in communities around the country.

It’s very important to take one lesson from manufacturing as we go forward, and that is, we’ve got to replicate our best practices as we find them. We’ve got to publicize them and replicate them quickly because there’s so much payoff if we can get everybody the best available practice. That doesn’t take a lot of research. That means you’ve got to replicate what my neighbor is doing, or what the person over there is doing.

The Chinese can’t stop us from doing this. The Indians can’t stop us from doing this. The EU can’t stop us. This is all on us. The Chinese did not set up our workforce system and undercut our trading system. That’s on us. It’s up to us. We can do it or not, and we have to step up here. …

I have said that we have solved every problem in public education in America somewhere in America. We just have the world’ worst system in replicating our successes. Let’s not let that be said about our workforce system. Let’s have it be superb.

And it will be different. It’s different in Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, where, say, the forest products industry might be important, versus Southeast Michigan. It’s different within states, within regions. That’s why Washington is so frustrated. They can’t have a one-size fits all national policy, so it’s got to be us.