Manufacturing needs to fix an Image Problem to solve its Talent Shortage

Today, 6 in 10 openings for skilled production positions remain unfilled because of a talent shortage. Looking ahead, the U.S. will need to fill nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs between 2015 and 2025 – yet about 2m of those jobs are expected to go unfilled because companies won’t be able to find workers with the skills needed in today’s technology-enabled industry.

Equipping the current and future workforce with the necessary skills is crucial. But we also need to clear the outdated and mistaken perceptions that exist which are preventing many from seeking careers in manufacturing in the first place.

Manufacturing has become very digitized. Smart factories are replacing primitive production plants. Workers are spending more time at computers and less time at manufacturing equipment. Advancements around newer processes, like 3D printing are continually pushing the limits of conventional manufacturing.

Unfortunately, public perceptions have not caught up with this new reality. As a result, many people hold the same views of manufacturing careers that their grandparents had – decent-paying jobs that often involve long assembly lines, manual labor, and loud machinery.

This perspective was reinforced in a study conducted by Opinion Research Corporation. The survey revealed:

71% of respondents do not view manufacturing as a high-tech career choice.

People mostly believe manufacturing jobs are working among machines (55%) and on assembly lines (50%). They only envision robotic technicians managing automated machines (20%) or software developers working in front of computer screens (10%).

Only 31% of respondents think a career in manufacturing is high paying.

Changing perceptions about manufacturing and sparking interest of the millennial generation is essential. A number of companies are already demonstrating how to do this.

GE, for example, created its “digital industrial” ad series starring millennials, Sarah and Owen. It is just as much a rebranding effort as it is a recruitment tool. GE premiered ads on late-night comedy shows and posted them on YouTube – with some videos including links to the GE careers page. The company even created a clever “Digital Industrial” filter for Snapchat, a popular social network among millennials. Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt has stated “The Industrial Internet and the economic potential of connecting a locomotive or a jet engine to the cloud has much more potential than the consumer internet! We can now use software and analytics to unlock the incredible value of machines and increase productivity, something that wasn’t available before.” And that all new recruits to the company, even finance and HR will need to learn Code

Lincoln Electric has used virtual reality to engage with young people, transporting them from a career fair to a plant floor to try their hand at welding.

SKF USA created an outreach program for community and technical colleges that included free instructional materials and training for teachers.

Proto Labs have given away tens of thousands of free manufacturing aids, like demo molds and design cubes, to help the faculty at the nation’s top engineering schools teach aspiring mechanical engineers about the latest technological advancements in manufacturing

The digital transformation of manufacturing has opened doors to STEM-rooted careers in the fields of software development, mechanical engineering and computational data sciences. This expertise is absolutely critical in further advancing both conventional manufacturing processes, like injection molding and CNC machining as well as industrial 3D printing. The proliferation of industrial robotic equipment, automation controls, digital scanning devices, and M2M learnings has and will continue to create an increased demand for a highly-skilled workforce capable of operating and maintaining this type of equipment.

A rewarding career awaits the next generation of manufacturing talent – many of them just don’t know it yet. By dispelling age-old misperceptions and enlightening young people about what modern manufacturing really is, we can begin to close the skills gap and inspire a new generation of workers to pursue high-tech and high-paying careers in our industry

Dec 21, 2016
Vicki Holt President & CEO, Proto Labs