How the US will dominate the manufacturing industry
While China is an attractive manufacturing prospect in terms of cost and regulatory ease, the US is making great strides in technologies such as robotics, 3D printing, and automation, which sees it set to dominate the industry.
However, the difficulty lies in finding a suitably highly-skilled workforce. Manufacturing Global spoke to Pat Dean, Director of Recruiting at Advanced Technology Services, who is hopeful that America can bounce back in the manufacturing sector with the help of the right people.
Why are skilled manufacturing roles so hard to fill?
More and more, manufacturing roles require very specific technical knowledge and experience that can only be gained through classroom and on-the-job, hands-on training. As the population ages, many traditional workers with the mechanical skills (who may or may not have recently added technical skills to their skill set) are starting to retire or will retire soon. At the same time, in recent generations, not as many students have been focused on STEM fields, and those high-school graduates that did, tended to pursue two and four-year college degrees as opposed to vocational studies. This has lead experienced workers leaving the manufacturing industry due to retirement, and fewer young people stepping in to considering manufacturing as a viable choice for their careers. Therein lies the “skills gap” in the manufacturing industry today.
A contributing factor to the skills gap in manufacturing, too, is the perception of the industry that is held by young people and sometimes, those that guide them. Although these young folks are “digital natives” and are entirely comfortable with technology, they perceive manufacturing facilities and factories as old, dark, dirty and dingy places that they wouldn’t want to work in. However, the scenario within today’s leading-edge manufacturing facilities couldn’t be further from that perception: they are bright, clean, efficient environments run by some of the world’s most sophisticated technology platforms.
What do you think can be done to encourage people to join the industry?
First there needs to be a renewed focus on vocational studies at the high school level. Unfortunately, shop and industrial classes have often been the first to go when school systems are looking to cut costs. It is vital that these types of courses are maintained and offered at the high school level for those that want to take advantage of them.
Second, high school guidance counselors need to promote the advantages of vocational careers as an alternative to the traditional two and four-year degree fields. Not everyone is cut out for the college track, nor should they be. It needs to be emphasized at the high-school level that following a track toward a vocational career can also result in a rewarding career that provides upward mobility, just as college can.
Finally, manufacturers need to do a better job of promoting the advantages of working in the modern factory setting. These advantages include high hourly wages, great employee benefits, ongoing high-tech opportunities, innovative work environments and being a part of the industry that is the growth engine of the U.S. economy.
What steps must manufacturers take to ready the US for an increasingly high-tech industry?
First, manufacturers must disassociate themselves from the stereotype of manufacturing being dark, dirty and dangerous, and market the new face of manufacturing, which is truly an innovative and high-tech environment.
Secondly, manufacturers must identify and pursue a talent pool who can be trained to excel within these increasingly high-tech environments, and then commit to an ongoing training philosophy. It isn’t enough to have a willing workforce in place; manufacturing executives must commit to maintaining consistent training programs on an ongoing basis, and not let those programs fall prey to reactive cost cuts that are the result of the pressures of volatile, short-term market forces. If they make that commitment, they will see that it pay off manifold in the long run, and the whole country will be better for it.
Which companies are making the biggest strides towards readiness?
The companies that acknowledge the skills gap and are taking steps to combat it are the best-positioned to thrive in the high-tech manufacturing environment today, and into the future.
There are two critical factors to combatting it and being an industry leader right now: first, identifying and pursuing a talent pool with the necessary technical aptitude is key. Second, upskilling that talent pool through innovative and sustained training programs in the long run is essential. The companies that are willing to make those strides now will become the backbone of a new wave of U.S. economic leadership on a global level not only soon, but into the foreseeable future.