#54 – Inside Our Industry – Redefining The Future of Manufacturing to Plug the Skills Gap

Posted on | Inside Our Industry

The shortage of workers can be seen across all industries. Manufacturing is no different. The challenges of not only finding skilled workers, but workers willing to work in manufacturing is presenting an ever-growing problem for manufacturers. We’ve shared numerous articles on the subject, but it continues to be one of the key issues for the manufacturing sector in the United States. Following are excerpts from an article by a member of Forbes Business Council.

Redefining The Future of Manufacturing to Plug the Skills Gap
Patrick O’Rahilly, Forbes Councils Member  |  June 21, 2021

The intersection of aging baby boomers leaving the manufacturing workforce and young people disinclined to enter the industrial sector has created a chasm of jobs left unfilled. While the pandemic has resulted in even more unfilled jobs, it also has highlighted how those currently seeking employment frequently lack the required skill sets. Many small and midsized manufacturers may never recover because the lost workers had so much irreplaceable operational knowledge and practice.

Facing the immediate need for skilled workers while simultaneously bringing a new generation up to speed is the fundamental skills gap challenge right now. Without a strong pipeline of apprenticeships educating and training the next generation of manufacturing laborers, the capacity for companies to compete could be permanently diminished.

The Solution to The Skills Gap? Reimagine Manufacturing

I believe that the very image of manufacturing needs rehabilitation. Many people don’t consider working in a manufacturing facility to be an honorable and well-respected profession anymore. Over the last several decades or so, there has been a shift in social expectations.

The clarion cries about STEM worker shortages (those entering science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers) have resulted in an intense push for high school students to enter college programs in these areas — with the promise of big salaries and an abundance of job opportunities. Unfortunately, most students pursuing four-year degrees in STEM-related occupations aren’t choosing to bring those skills to the manufacturing sector after graduation. The rationale seems to be based on a negative perception surrounding manufacturing, specifically that it’s all about manual labor, not as fulfilling and not as widely respected. These impressions illustrate the image building needed to attract and grow a highly skilled manufacturing workforce.

Another factor that may dissuade potential manufacturing workers is the false and widely held notion that one is destined for a life of financial struggle without a four-year degree, which many manufacturing jobs don’t require.

Encouraging Trade-Focused Career Paths

… an in-depth assessment of the root causes of the manufacturing skills gap…pointed to a multifaceted solution that requires the manufacturing industry’s collective effort. Manufacturers should consider reinventing the training process by elevating it to include one-on-one training, job shadowing and other out-of-the-box opportunities. Allowing young workers to step outside of the classroom and gain hands-on experience can help entice them to consider a career in the industrial sector.

Likewise, veteran workers with mastery need to keep up with ever-changing technology. Upskilling workers keeps them in the trade and enables them to earn more money. Keeping experienced workers on the job for longer is critical while the next generation of manufacturing workers is being cultivated.

Manufacturers also should consider participating in annual events like MFG Day to encourage young people to attend local plant tours and better understand the dynamic, engaging and eclectic career opportunities, many of which require STEM skills (but not necessarily a four-year degree).

Regardless of the methods attempted to alleviate the manufacturing skills gap, I believe the manufacturing industry must reinvent its image and position itself as skilled, innovative, well-paying and highly valued. Ultimately, if a skilled workforce doesn’t exist, manufacturing doesn’t exist.