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Megan Ray Nichols


How Are Manufacturers Addressing the Skills Gap?

Five approaches for addressing the shortage

Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 - 11:03

Manufacturing is in the middle of a new industrial revolution that requires skilled laborers. However, by most reports, many manufacturers lack enough of these well-trained employees, creating a worker shortage due to the skills gap—the difference between the skills manufacturers need and the skills job applicants have.

Companies are responding to the skills gap in numerous ways, seeking novel approaches to bridge the divide between the knowledge the workforce has and the knowledge they need.

Technology automates formerly routine processes, decreasing the need for workers who once did these jobs. Although manufacturers no longer need as large a workforce, they still need to find skilled laborers, ones who understand how to program and run a CNC or industrial robot. Although some work has been done toward addressing the skills gap, two out of every three companies don’t have a plan for remedying the problem.

Technology skills are only one facet of the skills gap—the lack of employment skills and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills also play parts in the shortage of available workers. To address the labor shortage, companies must focus on all three of these areas. This creates an opportunity for companies to devise multiple ways of correcting the problem. Because each company has specific needs depending on the technology used and the region, the means of closing the gap will differ. Here are five approaches that can help close the skills gap.

Create apprenticeships

Apprenticeships have not disappeared. In fact, this means of on-the-job learning for young workers could help manufacturers get skilled employees. According to RiseSmart, up to 70 percent of work knowledge comes from on-the-job learning. This makes apprenticeships the perfect way to teach new employees company-specific skills.

Additionally, you can encourage formal education in potential new hires through scholarships. Conductix did this for five years. The company offered a high school senior a full scholarship to a two-year technical program. After graduation, the student went to work for Conductix for three years. The company found success with this model and currently has two staff members who were educated through scholarships.

Educate current employees

Thanks to newer technology freeing current employees’ time, they will be able to engage in on-the-job training and continuing education. This allows your company to retain loyal employees by encouraging them to stay. A recent survey from Randstad discovered 67 percent of employees felt they needed more training for current or future work. These respondents also felt their employers weren’t investing in them through training.

Quality Digest reached out to Kunal Shah, technology manager at Cherry’s Material Handling, to see how it was addressing the skills gap. and he said, “Our team has evaluated the situation and determined that increased workplace training in job responsibilities and safety best practices allows our newer team members to gain the skills needed to perform their jobs well and continue growing as they are trained in new responsibilities,” says Shah. He advises companies to “invest in training your team to prepare them to take on greater challenges as your business grows and changes. We’ve found that investing in your current employees is the best way to ensure that new employees, regardless of their qualifications, have everything they need to be successful in their position from the start.”

Older employees can help new hires learn the basics of your company’s work ethic. Younger trainers can educate the new workforce in operating the latest technology. This combination of old and new brings together experience and innovative ideas to balance out your employees’ education.

Promote manufacturing jobs

Many myths about manufacturing jobs prevail. While manufacturing remains a leading industry for communities, many parents don’t want their children working in that field. Out of every 10 parents surveyed, seven say they want manufacturing in their cities. However, only three would promote a manufacturing career for their children. Educating the public can change the misconception that manufacturing is not a lucrative career field.

Community interactions can encourage high school students to sign up for an apprenticeship or take STEM classes for a future manufacturing career. In California, The Workforce Education Coalition works with local educators and students to encourage manufacturing jobs. This organization takes students to local factories to see first-hand the roles they could fulfill in the future. It also teaches students about which classes to take to enter the future high-tech manufacturing field.

Increase the candidate pool

Though women are half the population, they hold only 29 percent of manufacturing jobs. Look for women seeking to return to the workforce to reduce the skills gap. To encourage recruits, get women at your company to attract female STEM graduates who may view your current women employees as role models. Additionally, you’ll have the skilled workers your company’s changing technology demands.

Aside from women, consider hiring immigrants, temporary workers, and those with disabilities. Adding these groups to your hiring options can increase the diversity of your company. Doing so brings fresh ideas to your manufacturing business.

Use technology

Although technology helped create a skills gap, it can also be part of the solution. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can help you train employees without shutting down the factory. VR puts users into an entirely digital world. Interacting happens through controllers operated by the person’s hands. Specific programs can help employees learn about the inner workings of the equipment they use.

AR puts digital features over a camera view of the room the user is in. This could include arrows and directions featured on the screen informing the employee of the next steps to take. With AR, the employee can still work and train at the same time. VR is a better option if continuing to work could pose a physical hazard from a lack of experience.

Adapt for the future

Technology is driving manufacturing into the future, and companies will need to keep pace with it, not fight it. The latest automation technology improves efficiency and accuracy but it also requires you to take steps toward fixing the skills gap it creates. Don’t be one of the two-thirds of companies that don’t have a plan for filling your workforce. Act now to begin hiring and training skilled workers who will take your company into the future.


About The Author

Megan Ray Nichols’s picture

Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance technical writer. She contributes regularly to sites like Thomas Insights and Manufacturing.net. You can keep up with Megan by following her on Twitter or subscribing to her blog, Schooled By Science.


Apprenticeships in public school

Two years ago, recognizing the oncoming shortage of skilled candidates, the State of Maryland instituted a pilot apprenticeship program within the public school system. Having proven successful in the original two counties, the program is being rolled out across the state with the 2018-2019 school year.

Considering the diversity of communities across the state, the results of the expanded program will provide a baseline to estimate the potential success of similar programs in other areas of the country.

Details of the program may be found at: https://www.dllr.state.md.us/employment/appr/youthappr.shtml

Manufacturing Skills Gap

The article addressed several causes for the skills gap but one.  I have noticed is that some high school counselors and families feel there is a lack of prestige associated with manufacturing.  Once upon a time skilled labor was much more respected and valued. The task is also to change that misperception that a manufacturing career is not as important, as challenging, as respectable or as creative as an academic career.

How many jobs are affected?

Hello I enjoyed your helpful and informative article. I just read an August 2017 article that reported 390,000 of these manufacturing jobs open. Also, it predicted 2 million of these will open in the next decade. Are thes numbers still relatively accurate a year later? Are the tools you mentioned staring to make a difference i filling these jobs? I don't know if employees being trained on the job would be included in the 390,000.


This reference came from one of your references


Hi John, I'm glad you enjoyed

Hi John,

I'm glad you enjoyed the article!

I found an article published in The Hill that confirms the prediction that 2 million jobs will need to be filled. You'll find the statistic halfway down the page. Unfortunately, there are a lot of baby boomers eligible for retirement, so even right now the number of new hires doesn't meet the number of openings.

The tools mentioned in the article are definitely a start to addressing the problem because without them the gap would be much larger.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics also has some interesting data about current workforce statistics from the last couple years. If I'm reading the data right, it looks like out of the 421,000 jobs open in March of 2018, 338,000 were filled. We are closing in on the gap, but still, have a way to go and I expect to see this fluctuate for a while. I think encouraging more people to consider manufacturing jobs is the best way to fill these open positions. Starting young, in middle and high school, would be ideal.