Manufacturers face a growing shortage of skilled workers to fill open positions, especially as the manufacturing sector continues to expand. The ISM reports that the U.S. manufacturing sector expanded in October 2014 for the 17th consecutive month. There are many reasons for the shortage of skilled workers and none of them has a quick fix. Even so, manufacturers can take steps to improve the odds that thy will have a ready supply of skilled workers when needed.
Retiring Baby Boomers
Pew Research shows that every day for the next several years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach the traditional retirement age of 65. That means a large number of skilled workers will be leaving the full-time work force, depriving their employers of their hard-won expertise. Manufacturers have options to help mitigate this devastating loss.
Flexible schedules: despite looming retirement, many people of retirement age would like to keep working on a reduced schedule. Manufacturers who enable their workforce to stay on with a flexible schedule will have more time to transfer critical knowledge to younger workers.
Many companies lament the lack of basic skills that young workers bring to the table. Many lack even basic math skills, and reading skills are lagging too. As manufacturing becomes more sophisticated, these skills become even more crucial.
Provide educational assistance: Manufacturers should work with local schools and colleges to ensure that the curriculum covers their requirements. They might also consider on-site remedial tutoring classes, sponsoring local community adult education or formalized on-the-job training to ensure that workers have the basic skills for success. Demonstrating how necessary math skills are to machinery setup or tooling makers helps demonstrate the relevance of topics. Coupled with a mentoring program in which older workers send time with new hires to impart their skills, this is a win-win for workers and employers alike.
Manufacturing Career Status
One problem in attracting young people to manufacturing careers is the industry’s relatively low status and “glamour” quotient. Young people see high tech, medicine, education or finance as both more lucrative and of higher value. Manufacturers must work to change this perception.
PR is not just for products: Consider outreach programs to local schools that showcase industry innovations. Make company executives and manufacturing leadership available to journalists for commentary or briefings. Highlight the changing nature of manufacturing and the increasing role of technology and innovation in advancing the state of the art. Talking about new methods that have captured the public’s imagination — think 3-D printing or nanotechnology — will help pique the interest of people pondering their future career options.
While none of these steps is a panacea that will instantly solve the issue, each will have an ongoing cumulative effect that will make manufacturing once again a respected and desirable career.