Detroit-based LIFT, a Department of Defense-supported national manufacturing innovation institute, announced Wednesday it will join a new national project, the Industry and Inclusion 4.0 cohort, to strategize solutions to make U.S. manufacturing more racially inclusive.
The project is led by The Century Foundation, a think tank focused on equity with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.; the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, which provides a national voice on equitable economic development strategies to create pathways to the middle class; and seven other urban workforce development organizations in the Midwest.
The group will address recruitment challenges, deepen relationships between employers and communities, and develop credential-based training programs. Members of the group were selected through a competitive process, and the initiative is funded by Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based national philanthropy focused on equity and educational attainment.
“We are pleased to represent the southeast Michigan area, our manufacturers, fellow manufacturing innovation institutes, and the broader community in this important national effort,” says Nigel Francis, CEO and executive director at LIFT.
“It is critical that we ensure racial equity in how we build the future of work in manufacturing here and around the country. We are eager to share our expertise and learn from the other organizations on how to best recruit, train, and ensure the success of people of color in manufacturing.
“The launch is in line with protests that have broken out across the country in response to the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man, in police custody in Minneapolis.
The coalition also launches its effort after the country’s manufacturing capacity shifted to produce millions of pieces of medical and personal protection equipment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are seeing three historic trends converge at once,” says Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at TCF and one of the organizers of the coalition. “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a need for skilled manufacturing workers to respond to the crisis and highlighted the importance of employer-focused, credential-based training. The resulting recession has created historic levels of unemployment, leaving half of black workers without work.
“And a long overdue reckoning on racial inequality has underscored the urgent need to improve access to jobs that pay well and provide good benefits. Our coalition will work at the intersection of these trends to help shape a more inclusive future of work for manufacturing.”
Pre-pandemic estimates indicate that the U.S. will need an additional 2.4 million manufacturing workers over the next decade. Unemployment rates are at record levels due to the pandemic, especially among black and Latino workers, and the protests have created a renewed focus on addressing systemic racism throughout American society.
“The manufacturing sector’s long legacy of creating jobs that offer pathways to the middle class for millions of American families will be crucial to a thriving 21st century economy that works for everyone,” says Lee Wellington, executive director at UMA and co-organizer of the coalition. “We are proud to launch this initiative in collaboration with The Century Foundation and these eight incredible partners to realize the promise of an inclusive manufacturing sector and a more equitable future of work.
To build a manufacturing sector that’s advancing equity in our communities, we need to dig deeply into the ecosystems that our place-based workforce partners have cultivated – whether it be with public schools, credentialing programs, faith-informed organizations, industry partners, or other community-based groups. Through our engagement with this cohort, we will lean into partnerships that have been forged and partnerships that have not yet been built to create a more inclusive and resilient manufacturing sector.”
LIFT is operated by the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute and is the public-private partnership between the Department of Defense, industry, and academia. It works to develop and deploy advanced manufacturing technologies and implement talent development initiatives to prepare the workforce.