Fewer people choose to go into manufacturing today, which has caused a worker shortage expect will get worse in the next few years. However, manufacturers can take steps to ensure full employment at their companies.
Why a Worker Shortage Exists
The worker shortage applies only to skilled laborers. In fact, by 2020, experts predict a surplus of 95 million unskilled workers. Several reasons explain this disparity between skilled and unskilled laborers.
As time passes, many older manufacturing laborers reach retirement age. This lowers the number of employees in the field through attrition as fewer new workers join. Many younger workers fail to attain adequate STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — skills required for many manufacturing jobs today. Additionally, manufacturers don’t offer enough training for new employees.
Modern technology is driving a fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing that will require highly-skilled workers. Over time, manufacturing facilities will increase in demand, creating the need to hire more employees. Despite the new industrial revolution the manufacturing industry is about to enter, many misconceptions about the field persist. Manufacturing has an undeserved reputation as being a low-paying industry of only unskilled jobs.
Manufacturers do have control of the situation. With a few changes in current practices, they can reduce the predicted labor gap. Correcting the reasons behind a lack of workers will bring manufacturing’s labor force into the 21st century.
Tap Into the Teen Market
When employers only look for college graduates, they neglect a highly tech-savvy group. In March 2018, the United States’ unemployment rate dipped to 4.1 percent. This necessitated bringing employees from groups who would normally not work. Retirees returned to the workforce, and teens sought employment in record numbers.
Unlike former generations of teenagers, who often worked in restaurants or grocery stores, today’s teens are more likely to want jobs in what used to be deemed skilled industries. Health care and manufacturing both showed increased labor for teenage workers over the 20 years from 1995 through 2016. To aid this, U.S. lawmakers have changed some laws to allow higher teen employment by easing restrictions on this group.
Teenagers have more technology skills than many older job seekers. Companies who hire them benefit by paying them lower wages, compared to their older counterparts. Since they live at home, most teenagers don’t need benefits from work. Younger workers could help manufacturers save money and close the growing skills gap.
Another hurdle to overcome is education. As mentioned earlier, STEM education options are limited for many students, which makes graduates unready for a job market that increasingly requires technically adept laborers.
Manufacturers must start young. Encouraging college students to study for manufacturing jobs might be too late. Instead, programs such as Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education, or PRIME, help introduce and train high school students in manufacturing skills. PRIME partners with many manufacturers such as Honda and Shape Corp. These companies fund PRIME programs in local schools to provide training for future employees.
Thanks to the program, students learn hands-on manufacturing skills. Program sponsors gain a future workforce that will be ready for the high-tech needs of manufacturing in the fourth industrial revolution.
For existing employees, manufacturers need to increase in-work training. By training current workers, the companies lose fewer employees. Specialized training ensures the workers will be taught the exact skills needed by the manufacturers.
Training could also include having younger workers inspire older ones. Prospective hires can share their ideas for improving the company after talking with a current worker. According to Dan Campbell, Founder and Executive Chairman of Hire Dynamics, millennials constantly look for ways to creatively “empower their own positions and teams.” This insight can help older workers gain a new zeal for the job and help with training both.
Apprenticeships are not a relic of times gone by. Many manufacturing companies today use this technique to teach workers needed skills. SCHOTT, a manufacturing company based in Pennsylvania, initiated an apprenticeship program in 2013. The company did not want to wait for trained electromechanical technicians to enter the job market. A year later, the company still has three original apprentices who are trained to the company’s special needs.
Pull Apart Preconceptions
Training employees and hiring teenagers can give workers the skills needed. But these solutions won’t help if no one wants to go into manufacturing. Companies need to raise awareness about working in the manufacturing industry. A vital step to getting enough skilled workers is to break the misconceptions about the industry.
One-third of Americans polled in a 2016 survey did not want their children to take manufacturing jobs. These parents voiced concern about low wages, job security, and career stagnation. In sharp contrast, 82 percent of those surveyed said they thought manufacturing played either an important or very important role in the U.S.’ economic prosperity. Tackling this cognitive dissonance is part of the work manufacturers must do.
One of the best ways to change minds is inviting the public to tour facilities. This helps dispel the notion that manufacturing plants are dirty, grease-covered places. Manufacturing Day participation gives companies a chance to put their best face forward to the public. This industry-wide celebration connects companies and the local population so the two can educate each other. Raising the public’s awareness can go a long way toward pulling apart preconceptions.
Though a skilled labor gap exists and may increase, manufacturers do have options to help close it. The future of the industry will rely on having a skilled workforce, and now is the time for manufacturers to fill those needed positions.
This article originally appeared on The Moderate Voice. For more about skills gaps, read our blog Staffing Sustainably: What Will the Workforce of the Future Look Like?