A recent Deloitte report estimated that as many as 600,000 jobs U.S. manufacturing jobs are unfilled. Why? There’s a skills mismatch in the manufacturing industry. With unemployment sitting at 8.3 percent, this is cause for concern.
Much of the recent coverage around the manufacturing skills gap has focused on its root causes, which are by now familiar: baby boomers are retiring, shop floor automation is increasing the technical skills required in manufacturing jobs, and youth are disinterested in pursuing a manufacturing career.
Whatever the causes, we now need to work together as a nation to overcome the skills deficit. I see three ways to achieve this:
- Strengthen educational partnerships;
- Invest in corporate in-house training programs; and,
- Energize the workforce of tomorrow.
The first two strategies will help manufacturers overcome the problem of hiring a capable workforce in the near-term. Meanwhile, energizing youth about pursuing a manufacturing career will help create a supply of workers for the long-term.
Strengthen Educational Partnerships
Technical colleges (and other parts of academia) are perfectly positioned to equip a new manufacturing workforce with the right skills. There is already an extensive network of schools that partner with manufacturers to teach relevant skills. These partnerships need to be strengthened.
One such partnership is the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ collaboration with Tooling U–an online training program that provides curricula for everything from CNC machining to welding. Tooling U partners with colleges, trade associations, media groups and industry to develop training programs that align with the skills manufacturers need.
Since its inception, Tooling U has helped 100,000 individuals revamp their skill set to find jobs at roughly 1,200 companies.
Partnerships like those developed at Tooling U need to grow in number and size because they are proven models for workforce development that can have an immediate impact on the skills deficit.
Invest in In-House Training Programs
The success of programs such as Tooling U prove that manufacturers can make a difference when they get involved in workforce training. Manufacturers that are serious about hiring the right people should implement their own skills training programs.
We have a model that shows that training in-house is highly effective: the Training Within Industry program. Hugh Alley, President of First Line Training, pointed out in a recent conversation that this program helped train two million women and eight million men after WWII.
According to Alley, firms that use this program usually achieve close to a 25 percent reduction in the time it takes to train an employee.
Over the last three decades, however, in-house training and apprenticeship programs have steadily declined across the industry. Many of these programs were cut for budgetary reasons. A recent study of UK manufacturers suggests that domestic manufacturers should bring these programs back.
Semta–a UK manufacturing association–analyzed the value of apprenticeship programs to manufacturers. Roughly 80 percent of surveyed UK manufacturers said that their apprenticeship program makes them more productive. Furthermore, 83 percent stated that they will rely on apprenticeships to fill future work needs.
While it may be difficult to find workers with the exact skills to match job openings, manufacturers can train people with the right aptitude. Investing in a talented individual can limit staffing problems and pay substantial dividends for manufacturing productivity.
Energize the Workforce of Tomorrow
Solving the workforce needs of today does little good if the next generation is disinterested in working in manufacturing. In the longer-term, manufacturers will need to get youth interested in manufacturing by exposing them to it in a fun, engaging way.
One example of this is a Tampa Bay program called STEM Goes to Work. The program takes students on manufacturing facility tours. While there, students get to talk with manufacturing employees, management and CEOs. They learn about manufacturing careers and what it takes to land one of those jobs.
According to Janet Bryant, Director of Corporate Development at iDatix, the tours also incorporate a fun element. For instance, when students visited a gear manufacturer, they were given a challenge to build workable gears out of Styrofoam.
Here in Austin, National Instruments gets young people interested in manufacturing and engineering through their Lego Mindstorms project. Lego Mindstorms features a combination of lessons and competitions where students are tasked to build simple robotics.
While these kinds of projects don’t develop manufacturing-specific skills directly, Reut Schwartz-Hebron of Key Change Institute notes that they “help foster critical thinking ability, which ultimately makes it much easier to learn manufacturing skills later in life.”
How do you think we can overcome the manufacturing skills gap today and in the future? Please leave me your thoughts in the comments section.
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