It’s a problem unique to manufacturing, largely because of the rapid rate at which this industry is evolving. The so-called skills gap refers to the lack of skilled workers to fill openings. According toU.S. News and World Report, the manufacturing industry as a whole accounts for more than 12 million American workers. But because of the skills gap, roughly 600,000 jobs were unfilled as of 2012.
Below, read more about the skills gap and what can be done to close it.
What are the Implications for Manufacturing?
It depends on whom you ask. For job seekers, it’s a positive, because some standard training can almost guarantee a steady job. But for the industry itself, the skills gap is a major problem. The United States could use every edge it can get, so it doesn’t help to have understaffed facilities.
What is the Cause of the Skills Gap?
One of the major causes for the current skills gap is that the baby boomer generation makes up a sizable portion of the manufacturing industry; as they retire, they’re taking their institutional knowledge with them. In fact, they’re retiring much faster than the industry is able to recruit replacements. The pace of retirements is only expected to increase in the near future, with the U.S. Census Bureau expecting retirees to account for more than 20 percent of the overall population, compared with 13 percent in 2010 and just 9.8 percent in 1970, according to the U.S. News and World Report article.
The problem is exacerbated by the rapid pace of growth in manufacturing. Unlike many sectors of the U.S. economy, manufacturing has gained steam in recent years. The demand for skilled workers is on the rise.
What Skills are Needed?
As in many industries, a lack of technological know-how is increasingly a deal-breaker. But in manufacturing, the skills gap goes beyond that. Companies are in dire need of even traditional manufacturing skills. The Society for Human Resource Management Foundation lists welders, machinists and industrial-machinery mechanics as the occupations in the shortest supply. As far as where they are needed, SHRM identifies Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; Miami, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and Wichita, Kansas as the areas with the most concentrated need for skilled labor.
What Can Be Done?
A trade school in Grand Prairie, Texas is one example of ways to proactively close the gap. The school, called Dubiski, focuses on practical job training based on actual local openings. It partners with nearby Holt Cat for paid internships working on heavy equipment.
Outreach and education are key to closing the manufacturing skills gap. Programs around the country, such as this one, exist entirely to give financial support and training to people interested in a manufacturing career. The programs are there; the money is there; for now, it’s a matter of driving both students and adults in the right direction.
Once people become aware of the endless opportunities in manufacturing, the gap will eventually close itself.