The skills gap in manufacturing
The skills gap in manufacturing
As manufacturing becomes more dependent on the latest digital technology, there is a growing gap between the skills of employees and the skills necessary to achieve optimal production. Whether or not a company can overcome this issue depends on that company’s ability to properly train and retain its workforce.
American manufacturing has the potential to become the most productive it has ever been. However, the typical American factory worker’s low level of technical skills threatens to stop the realization of this potential. Manufacturing firms must acknowledge and address the skills gap between their employees and their systems or risk losing productivity.
What it means for the job
America has no shortage of manufacturing jobs. There were 322,000 job openings in October 2016, up from 99,000 in the recession of 2009. The problem here is not the number of jobs but rather the lack of qualified candidates for these positions. New technological advances mean that traditional professions such as millwrights, lathe operators and machinists are in decline while the demand for tech savvy individuals who can program, update and troubleshoot computer controlled manufacturing is on the rise.
The cost of this skills gap in manufacturing is tremendous in terms of lost production. In October 2016, over 50,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled. The resulting burden has been passed on to existing workers, requiring manufacturers to provide overtime pay and increasing the likelihood of mistakes and employee burnout. Employees who don’t receive proper training and support are much more likely to explore other career paths.
What it means for the worker
A manufacturing worker lacking in technical skills is in a frustrating position. On paper, there are plenty of jobs to go around, but without training in the latest methodologies, most workers are ill-equipped to fill those vacant positions. Job placement training could serve as a solution to this problem, but it often requires potential employees to invest a significant amount of time in training without pay.
Today, employees are also more likely to be working for an outside labor company than directly for the manufacturer. The rise in temporary agencies has allowed some manufacturers to apply just in time methodologies to labor usage while avoiding some of the costs associated with training and maintaining a technical labor force. In some cases the technical staff used to operate and modify computer directed manufacturing machines may be provided by the manufacturers of that equipment. For the workers, this results in a continued lack of technical training and a further widening gap between skill levels and job requirements.
How to address the problem
Forward thinking manufacturers take a multifaceted approach to finding qualified candidates. Often they will a combination of in-house and contract recruiters to attract qualified talent. Industry experts indicate that it takes approximately four years to fully apprentice an employee to proficiency, but manufacturers are advised to individually evaluate training time within their specific location as well as constantly monitor the execution of training plans.
The number of technical training programs available to potential workers, both online and at local community colleges, has exploded. Federal programs, such as the Department of Labor’s ETA, are extremely popular, and some manufacturers have started working with local community colleges to create vocational programs focused on modern manufacturing methods. The programs will provide manufacturers access to a new and invigorated workforce at a lower cost.
What the future holds
The future of domestic manufacturing is promising, so long as manufacturers do everything they can to close the skills gap. Companies should work closely with the government, industry specific associations and community colleges to create relevant training programs. Additionally, major manufacturers should continue using multifaceted recruitment methods. There are plenty of jobs and plenty of workers. Now, the industry just needs to bring them together.