The Manufacturing Skills Gap Reaches Critical Levels
Industry executives are tired of hearing about the manufacturing skills gap, and they’re even more fed up with its consequences. But forward-looking experts agree: The skills gap isn’t getting any better. It’s getting progressively worse. As manufacturers are forced to adopt newer and more robust technologies, education barriers get higher. It’s not about finding industry professionals — it’s about finding educated ones.
As we move deeper into the 2020s — an already tumultuous decade — manufacturers need creative solutions for discovering talent. The next few years might depend on it.
Industry 4.0 is here, but the labor force lags
The manufacturing industry has seen rapid technological advances. Many companies now use machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), the IIoT, automation, robotics, and augmented or virtual reality to improve factory efficiency. But there aren’t enough individuals with the education and training necessary to operate the new technology.
In a proverbial meeting of rock and hard place, Industry 4.0 tech is proving pivotal to maintaining a competitive edge, but without qualified personnel, this essential technology is underutilized. Automation can solve some of these problems, but people power is still the most essential — and increasingly among the rarest — commodity in manufacturing today.
Skills gaps are nothing new to the manufacturing industry. They’ve been an ongoing hindrance for more than two decades, and look likely to widen over the next decade as more and more manufacturers require technical expertise, high-level education, and sophisticated skills.
Vacancy numbers will rise in the 2020s
According to a new study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by 2030 — which could cost the U.S. economy around $1 trillion. U.S. manufacturers also report it’s 36% harder to find the right talent now than it was in 2018. Of that same group, 77% say they have trouble bringing in and keeping new workers.
According to Deloitte vice chairperson, Paul Wellener, “Given the foundational role the manufacturing sector plays in our nation’s economy, it is deeply concerning that at a time when jobs are in such high demand nationwide, the number of vacant entry-level manufacturing positions continues to grow.”
One of the main challenges moving forward is correcting the misconceptions younger workers have about careers in the manufacturing industry. If industry leaders are unable to attract the next generation of workers, the skills gap will continue to grow.
Building a better industrial workforce
There are ways to manage the growing talent disparity in industry. Manufacturers should first focus on reskilling, upskilling, and continuing the education of their current employees. They can offer incentivized educational opportunities and in-house training programs. To attract students, manufacturers should offer internships and opportunities to earn education credits toward technical degrees. These incentives need to come with lucrative pay, benefits, and upward mobility prospects. And as manufacturing confronts a new workers’ rights movement, factories can distinguish themselves to workers by offering more to attract and retain qualified talent.
Where have all the skilled laborers gone?
While many skilled manufacturing professionals have chosen to retire or leverage their skills to climb the corporate ladder, skilled workers haven’t really gone anywhere. But the industry — and its increasingly advanced technology — is in danger of leaving them behind. Today, manufacturing has a much higher education barrier for entry, and it’s leaving many factories in the lurch as they look for capable individuals to lead their production teams.
It’s time to stop prospecting for skills and start creating them instead.