Having skilled, competent employees is key to an organization’s success. This is no longer easy for manufacturers to come by, however, as a massive talent shortage has emerged in the industry in recent years, leaving many jobs unfilled and tasks undone. It is expected that this talent gap will result in millions of positions remaining vacant in the years to come, a number that will only continue to grow if nothing is done to counteract this trend.
To provide solutions, we must first understand the roots of the problem. Many issues and challenges have combined to create the perfect storm for manufacturing jobs, including:
- Silver Tsunami. The large number of baby boomers retiring each year, also referred to as the “silver tsunami,” has been anticipated for years, yet it is still a main contributing factor to the talent shortage. These experienced workers continue to leave the workforce at an increasing rate, taking their skills with them and leaving behind vacancies that cannot be filled easily. Decades of experience in manufacturing cannot be taught to new workers overnight, making it nearly impossible to sufficiently fill the voids these workers leave behind.
- Industry 4.0. As new and interconnected technologies, commonly known as Industry 4.0, continue to grow in the manufacturing world, more and more manufacturers are having difficulty keeping up with the latest trends. In addition to trying to understand the vast amount of innovations currently on the market, manufacturers face the added challenge of finding talent with the skills and education necessary to operate such technologies. Industry 4.0 calls for a new kind of worker, with more advanced and more specific skills than previously needed for a career in manufacturing, adding to the gap in talent needed and talent available.
- Education and training. The issue of insufficient training and education has contributed largely to the skills gap facing manufacturers. From lack of interest in STEM career paths to lack of awareness about career opportunities available to lack of proper training for those interested in pursuing a manufacturing career, it can be difficult to prepare the students of today for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow.
At this point you may be asking yourself, “How can we close the skills gap?” I recently published a blog offering one answer to this problem: education reform. There I explained how Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), along with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), are working to gather insights and recommend changes or additions to college courses to better target the skills gap and prepare workers for current manufacturing job requirements.
Another solution is apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships are one of the most effective, proven ways to directly train and retain workers while shrinking the talent shortage. As most processes in manufacturing involve detailed protocols and a deep understanding of equipment, it is crucial that all workers have comprehensive training in order to be successful. Placing students directly on the factory floor with experienced employees providing guidance can eliminate challenges associated with poor training. Implementing on-the-job training for students not only provides them with valuable hands-on learning experiences, but connects manufacturers with future workers.
Additionally, apprenticeships provide manufacturers with a way to invest in the future of their company and their employees, giving them a solid foundation and room to grow within their organization. Investing time and effort in training and developing staff through apprenticeships can boost your company’s desirability, helping workers to envision future growth and career opportunities in your company. This can support employee retention efforts, as well as attract outside workers seeking to grow their skills. Ultimately your organization can become a company of choice that is recognized for its commitment to developing the next generation of manufacturers.
Want to start your own apprenticeship program? Come to a free info session hosted by Automation Alley and The Center to learn more about how to implement a registered apprenticeship program in your facility. Held from 9:30 am to 11:30 am on Tuesday, July 24 in Plymouth, speakers at this event will answer the following questions:
- What is a registered apprenticeship program?
- Why should my company consider implementing this training model?
- What resources are available to get started?
Methods such as apprenticeships and education reform are two proven ways to combat the talent shortage. Although it will take years of combined efforts from the government, schools and manufacturers to successfully address this skills gap, steps such as these can go a long way in raising the next generation of manufacturers.
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Vice President of Business Operations
Elliot is Vice President of Business Operations at The Center, where he is responsible for leading practice areas that include cybersecurity, technology acceleration, marketing, market research and business development. Over the past two years, Elliot has led The Center's effort to develop a state-of-the-art cybersecurity service for companies in the defense, aerospace and automotive industries, supporting Michigan companies in safeguarding their businesses and maintaining regulatory compliance.
Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.