The manufacturing skills gap, which we first defined here, is a real threat to the future of the U.S. economy. More skilled workers are retiring than ever before, up to 10,000 baby boomers daily. As a result, the manufacturing industry will face a shortage of nearly 3.5 million jobs within the next few years explains Deloitte, and the problem will only get worse from there. However, manufacturers can work to reduce the overall manufacturing skills gap by following these four steps.

4 Ways to Combat the Manufacturing Skills Gap

Eliminate Gender-Based Inequality

Without getting into a heated discussion on the politics of the issue, women in the manufacturing industry will play a vital role in improving the manufacturing skills gap. Traditionally, women have made up the smallest portion of the manufacturing workforce. According to US News, fewer than 7 percent of all new jobs added to manufacturing since 2010, and some women working in lower paying positions already have the skills needed to move up the ladder in the industry.

Women are also heavily involved in the manufacturing industry when looking at package and filling machine operators. In fact, up to 56 percent of all workers in packing and filling positions are female. Yet, the majority of all welders, 95 percent, working in manufacturing are men. Ironically, many of the skills needed to operate packaging and filling machines are similar to, if not identical in some cases, to the skills required by welders. In other words, if companies can close the wage gap between women and men in the manufacturing setting, they can access more skilled workers to fill the positions needed.

Invest in STEM Education

Education continues to be a focal point of the manufacturing skills gap, but not just any education will suffice. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills should be more heavily included into the educational courses of today’s students. A STEM education is the vessel that encourages students to enter the manufacturing setting, explains Cisco.

For existing companies, the opportunities for using STEM education abound. Specifically, more manufacturers should offer training courses focused on STEM education to workers in lower-paying, less-intense positions. In other words, companies must move away from the exclusive HR- and OSHA-based training programs and include courses on STEM. This will help more workers advance in their careers, which will ultimately help the industry regardless of where these workers may choose to relocate in the future.

Implement Sustainable Manufacturing Practices

Sustainability is another important way manufacturers can close the skills gap. More people are turning to companies with well-known “eco-friendly” policies for employment, and some may even change careers in pursuit of a more environmentally-conscious company.

Smart, sustainable factories, such as those using the Industrial Internet of Things to reduce carbon emissions and waste, will help align company goals with publics goals. This will further propel the manufacturing industry into this century. Yet, sustainability also applies to how manufacturers work to encourage continued employment with staff members.

Additionally, manufacturers that implement sustainable policies will reap significant cost savings across their enterprises. With these savings, manufacturers will be able to pay workers more, which returns the conversation back to the points of eliminating gender-based inequality in the workforce. However, manufacturers must do something else to effectively close the gap indefinitely.

Collaborate With Parents, Educators and Government to Create an Automation-Conducive Environment

The conversation with children has practically become an archetype. A parent asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The child responds with an off-the-wall answer, but parents have the unique ability to help mold what types of careers a child considers.

For example, parents may say, “You could become a lawyer or doctor.” But, it is rare that you hear parents singing the praises of manufacturing in most modern media. So, manufacturers need to find a way to work with parents to help introduce the next generation to modern manufacturing and the job opportunities available in it.

Of course, this collaboration goes beyond the manufacturer’s relationship with public perception; it must include collaboration with government organizations and educators as well. Many students turn to the government for financial assistance, so finding a way to bridge the divide between the government and industry could help eliminate the manufacturing skills gap, reports Automation Alley.

For example, better compliance with regulations and visibility into an organization may help foster a positive relationship with government funding sources for future workers, which may include financial assistance in vocational training or apprenticeship programs too.

Meanwhile, this stream of collaboration should also flow seamlessly to educators, creating a positive outlook for the industry. In addition, these three forces working together can create an even greater focus on manufacturing has evolved and become more automated. Ultimately, students want to work in a clean, exciting environment, and better collaboration can make that possible.

The Big Picture

Right now, the future of U.S. manufacturing looks sound for the future, but the manufacturing skills gap is widening, and the election is stirring up concerns for companies operating in and outside of the continental U.S. But, manufacturers must be willing to take drastic steps if they want to survive in the next era of manufacturing. From ensuring equality to collaborating with others on a national and educational level, manufacturers have the potential to close the skills gap. 

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