U.S. Needs to Train More High-Tech Workers, Dow CEO Says

The U.S. needs to train more people to work with technology through vocational schools and doctorate programs if it’s to reclaim its leadership in manufacturing, Dow Chemical Co. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris said.

“This is the one that keeps me up at night: The human talent issue that built this country and rebuilding it so that the American manufacturing base can truly move to advanced technologies,” Liveris said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters.

Dow, the largest U.S. chemicals producer, last year pledged grants totaling $250 million to 25 chemical-engineering schools, including 15 in the U.S., to educate more scientists who can develop new materials. The Midland, Michigan-based maker of chlorine, epoxy resins and linear low-density polyethylene plastic, is having trouble hiring qualified people to work in its research labs and factories, Liveris said.

Liveris co-chairs President Barack Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, which he said will next week recommend a national focus on vocational schools that can produce workers capable of running modern factory equipment. The panel’s report also will recommend creating “incubation hubs” where universities and private businesses collaborate on new technologies, he said.

“We are behind in that strategy compared with other nation states,” Liveris said. “We need Ph.D.s and scientists and chemical engineers, materials engineers.”

Chinese Laboratories

Liveris, 57, said next week he will be in Singapore and China, which are better at educating their citizens to work in high-technology manufacturing fields.

“China had two foreign labs in 1990 and by 2010 it had 900, including one of ours,” he said. “They have a deliberate national strategy to attract companies like mine” that have intellectual property.

Investing in technology education doesn’t guarantee students will study in that field, Liveris said. The president’s manufacturing panel also will recommend a national outreach program to encourage students to attend vocational schools or pursue engineering degrees, he said.

“We have to change the national psychology,” Liveris said. “Losing competitive advantage in polymer science, materials science, and then ultimately biological science, we should care about that.”

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