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Closing the Technology Skills Gap in Manufacturing: What It Means For You

Manufacturing is the backbone of any country’s economy. Most other industries pale in comparison to the number of jobs created, money injected into the economy, and value to the population. Nevertheless, the manufacturing industry is currently struggling to find enough highly trained individuals to fill all roles.

In the US, the manufacturing industry is looking at a workforce skills gap crisis. Around 5 million new job openings in manufacturing are expected over the next decade, with less than half of those posts being filled by a skilled manufacturer.

Already, many manufacturing businesses are struggling to fill open positions to keep up with demand and this has led to them turning down business because their workforce lacked the capacity or skills required to complete the job.

The Manufacturing Industry Needs New Blood

One of the reasons for the skills gap is the retirement of long-serving skilled manufacturing workers. 

Over half of workers in manufacturing today are between the ages of 40 and 50. Within a decade or two, these knowledgeable experts too will be looking to retire.

As it stands, only 15% of manufacturing workers are new to the industry. If things don’t change rapidly, the US manufacturing industry will have significant struggles ahead.

Manufacturing Has an Image Problem

Why are not enough people going into jobs in manufacturing?

Ask students what working in manufacturing entails and they are likely to paint you a picture of manual labor, working on a factory floor, or performing relatively menial work. Jobs in the manufacturing field are perceived as being less glamorous than most others are. There is a pervasive idea that one must perform well in school and go on to further education to avoid working poorly paying, dirty jobs in manufacturing.

This perception of manufacturing couldn’t be further from the truth, but it is a tough image for the manufacturing industry to shake. There is, in fact, a wide range of exciting, well paying, and interesting positions available in manufacturing for this generation and the next, and it’s up to the manufacturing industry to let this be known with better PR, recruitment, and marketing.

Manufacturing Jobs Have Changed

The biggest reason for the skills gap is the rapid speed that manufacturing technology has advanced.

Another thing that students, parents, and job seekers often fail to realize is how much technology is advancing the world of manufacturing. Manufacturing jobs are increasingly technical, thanks to the introduction of advanced robotics, additive manufacturing, and computer automation.

This incredibly rapid change has been difficult for some people to understand and cope with. Unskilled labor has been replaced by skilled labor and more technical positions, leaving many who had thought they had a job for life confused about their future.

Fortunately, one of the best-performing methods for closing the technology skills gap in manufacturing is to “up-skill” current employees instead of relying on the hiring of new talent.

Companies that are willing to spend money now training up their current staff on the seismic changes in the manufacturing industry are likely to see reduced costs compared to a company that tries to replace the majority of its workforce sometime in the future.

Expect Manufacturing Jobs to Offer Better Incentives to New Recruits

The manufacturing industry is continuing to expand and this means the hunt for new skilled recruits will only get more competitive. New approaches like apprenticeship programs that encourage rapid on-the-job training will be popular.

Many manufacturing companies are trialing the use of virtual reality and augmented reality in training in a bid to shorten the amount of training time required to on-board a highly skilled laborer.

The onus is on the manufacturing industry and individual companies to recognize and adapt to the massive changes we are seeing and will see in manufacturing over the next decade. All the new technology that improves throughput, efficiency, and profit margins requires highly skilled, highly trained, technically inclined individuals. Companies that fail to attract the talent able to fill these positions will be obsolete.