In a 2018 study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute it was predicted that by 2028 there would be in excess of two million unfilled positions in manufacturing—a deficit created by what is being called the “Manufacturing Skills Gap.” The changing landscape of the manufacturing industry, paired with an outdated reputation and quickly developing technology, has created this gap between the skills that manufacturing workers have and those needed by employers. If this disparity is not addressed, the manufacturing industry could see supply shortages, supply chain breakdowns, and rising costs. But what exactly is the skills gap, and how can it be fixed.
Why has the Skills Gap Grown so Large?
The Manufacturing Skills Gap is a “mismatch” between the skills needed by employers, and those needed by the labour force. The Skills Gap has been growing over the past decades, and has not been reduced due to two primary reasons.
1. An Aging and Reduced Workforce
First, as baby boomers exit the work force, there are not enough workers entering manufacturing to fill the gaps left by retirees. Exiting workers are often skilled, with years of experience under their belts, and it is difficult to find replacements with a similar level of knowledge and expertise. For years, manufacturing has been seen as an undesirable field; its reputation has not been able to keep pace with the technological transformation of the industry since the introduction of robotics, automation, and other newly-developed technologies. The manufacturing industry is no longer the industrial grind of the past, but is instead an area where technically-minded, innovative, and forward-thinking technicians and operators can flourish.
2. Changing Skills-Sets Due to New Technology
This introduction of new technology has also amplified the Skills Gap, as often those who do choose to go into manufacturing do not enter the workforce with the skills to operate and program the advanced technologies being adopted. Necessary skill-sets are becoming increasingly specific, and technicians need to be able to work not only with machines, but may need to interact with robots, troubleshoot complex electronic malfunctions, and program automated systems as part of their day-to-day routine. Cross-functional employees with overlapping skills are key, and the shortage of this type of skilled worker means most businesses are currently unable to fill all their labour needs.
How can the Skills Gap be Closed?
In order to close the Manufacturing Skills Gap and maintain the manufacturing industry’s momentum, there are a number of steps that should be taken. Technicians of all skills levels will be needed, and it is imperative that manufacturing be presented as the highly technical, high-earning profession that it has become. This can be done by focusing on three major areas.
1. Revitalizing and Showcasing the Industry
First, manufacturing must be introduced to young people as a viable and desirable industry to build a career in—it must be clear that manufacturing is an area in which one can enjoy great success and earning potential, as well as being personally rewarding. Technology developments must be front-and-centre, allowing students to understand the complexity of modern warehouses and the environments in which they will work. To do this, businesses must begin to showcase the new technologies that are being developed within the manufacturing industry, while also placing an emphasis on skill building and continuing education. This will ensure people entering the industry understand working conditions, are prepared for an engaging work environment, and knowledgeable of the tasks that will be required.
2. Keeping Workers Engaged in Manufacturing
Another way to close the Skills Gap is to ensure that workers are not exiting the industry, but instead are developing their skills and advancing their career within manufacturing. In order to do this, businesses must work to keep their employees engaged in their work. Offering mentorship programs, advanced training, and opportunities for advancement can all assist in keeping employees engaged and interested in their industry. Continuous learning is key to employee engagement and satisfaction, and technicians should always be maintaining and improving their knowledge and skills throughout their career.
3. Investing in People, not Only Technology
Finally, the focus must be on people. While new technology continues to be introduced within the manufacturing field, this tech cannot be operated without human workers alongside them. While technology will continue to advance, it is people who are needed to continue growing the manufacturing industry, and businesses should invest in their employees alongside adopting the newest technologies. Even the largest gains in automation and robotics technology cannot make up for the skills, critical thinking, and creativity of human manufacturing technicians.
How can Workers Take Advantage of the Skills Gap?
According to the Deloitte Study, in upcoming years “it is not the need for STEM degrees, but rather the ability to program machines on the plant floor” that will be needed to bridge this gap. “Due to the influx of automation and advanced technologies” there will be a high need for those skilled in programming for robotics and automation, working with tools and technology, and with the ability to think critically. The demand for skilled technicians who are well trained and able to use new technologies is huge, and is set to continue to grow in the coming decade. Successful technicians will need to be trained in both advanced technologies and problem solving to meet these needs.
It is clear that the coming decade will be an exciting time for workers in the manufacturing field. Alongside technological advances there will be more job availability and greater demand for skilled technicians. To take advantage of this demand, technicians should ensure they are honing their skills across the industry, seeking out ways to broaden their knowledge… and encouraging their peers to do the same. Cross-training within different disciplines will be important—check out this blog on becoming a Manufacturing Triple Threat—as it will allow workers to not only fill the jobs that exist, but be prepared for the positions that will exist in the future.
While the Skills Gap may be a daunting hurdle in the advancement of the Manufacturing industry, it can be bridged by careful investments in building a new generation of educated technicians with the proper skills. In the coming years there will be a huge demand for manufacturing experts, with jobs to fill at all skill levels. Manufacturing businesses should be constantly looking for ways to showcase the industry to prospective workers, revamping the industry’s reputation and drawing the best talent into developing manufacturing fields. Alongside employers, workers should seek out continuous learning opportunities, build their skills, and keep up with industry trends to ensure that they are there to fill the gap.
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