What the Skills Gap Means for the Future of Manufacturing

 In Blog

If you’re looking forward to buying your favorite manufactured goods in the year 2025, you may have a hard time finding what you need. According to a report by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, there won’t be enough workers to produce the products consumers want. In ten years, it is estimated that nearly two million manufacturing positions will be vacant.

Since we published this post in November 2015, a lot of focus and debate has centered on the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. The recent presidential election zeroed in on the economic suffering created by factories closing or moving out of the country.

Some of the debate during the election focused on bringing jobs back to the U.S. What happens in that area remains to be seen. We hope that manufacturing thrives in the U.S. and the Midwest in particular. At Storee Construction, our business is to build and upgrade plants and factories. We’ve always been proud to support the American tradition of manufacturing.

Our focus in this blog is not on factories going overseas, but on the skills that workers need for today’s highly automated positions. A study by Ball State University concluded that nine out of 10 jobs eliminated since 2000 disappeared because of automation. If there’s a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing, the new jobs will require different skills from those of the old jobs.

Today’s factory jobs require more than a high-school diploma. Some will require a college degree and perhaps an extended apprenticeship. The difficulty of paying for a college education and the ongoing problems of college debt were another focus of the 2016 presidential campaigns. Young people worry that a college education doesn’t lead to a good-paying job. At the same time, they struggle to pay off student debt.

The Skills Gap and the Future of Manufacturing

Faced with the dilemma of a skills gap, The New York Times reports that employers are seeking to work with colleges to better prepare students for factory work. They need a workforce with good academic skills, but they also want people who have had hands-on practice in the relevant skills.

John Deere has taken this approach of partnering with colleges. According to the article mentioned above, the company is sponsoring students, designing curriculums and donating equipment to colleges that train people for their dealer network.

While the election hasn’t settled the debates about the future of industry, there’s hope in the increased attention given to the problem.

Retirement and Growth Blamed for the Shortage

The study is based on interviews with 450 manufacturing executives. The executives identified two underlying reasons for the expected shortage of workers.

  • Retirement – Many manufacturing workers are retiring and will continue to retire over the next ten years. During that time, approximately 2.7 million people will need to be ready to fill their positions.
  • Expansion – The manufacturing industry is growing. At the projected rate of growth, the industry will add 700,000 new positions. Experts say the number of qualified and willing workers is not growing at a rate fast enough to fill the gap. By 2025, analysts think nearly 60 percent of manufacturing jobs will go unfilled.

Why Aren’t More Millennials Going Into Manufacturing?

Some manufacturers say they have taken steps to create an enticing workplace with good jobs. Even after trying to make their businesses more appealing, they say workers aren’t taking the bait. Experts theorize there are several reasons why it’s getting harder to fill manufacturing openings.

  1. Manufacturing doesn’t sound cool – Many young workers don’t like the sound of a manufacturing job. Manufacturing jobs have the reputation for being difficult and working in a factory doesn’t have a glamorous image. What people just entering the workforce may not know is that skilled tradespeople in manufacturing can earn a good living and enjoy long-term job stability.
  2. Technology raises the bar – Manufacturing is increasingly dependent on technology. Training hasn’t kept up with the demand for the complex technological skills needed in today’s factories. Many schools have curriculums that emphasize STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), but manufacturers say students aren’t graduating with the skills needed to succeed in the workplace.
  3. Not enough on-site training – Some experts think the fault lies in the manufacturing industry. They say manufacturers need to provide more on-site training, internships and apprenticeships. Some skills are specialized to certain jobs and could better be mastered with on-the-job training.

Industry Central to Closing the Gap

The Institute/Deloitte report concludes that manufacturers are the key to closing the skills gap. The industry needs to increase advertising, step up recruitment and expand training. Manufacturers can find new workers by partnering with high schools and trade schools. By getting involved in education, manufacturing can train a new generation in the skills they need to succeed in their industry.

Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas manufacturers contact Storee for workers skilled in building construction, production and conveyor equipment installations and custom metal fabrication. Contact Storee at 888-736-2032 to discuss your project with a Storee project manager.

Updated Feb. 14, 2017. Originally published Dec. 3, 2015.