As technology advances, so do the requirements needed to do the jobs. Many companies require special skills or college degrees where years ago they simple weren’t needed. In the past you could apply for a job working on an assembly line with no prior skills needed other than to be good working with your hands and simple tools. Today’s manufacturing plants have come such a long way, that computer and engineering skills are the new norm. Not only are the plants feeling the shortage, students who chose not to go to a trade school or college are finding their options for careers far more limited than their parents and grandparents had.
So, what’s the solution to make an unsexy field sexy?
Wages: Many manufacturers have started raising wages. It’s a great first step in encouraging new workers into the field but doing just this only cannibalizes the market with many workers just switching from one company to another based on who pays more. Ideally, wages need to be raised across the board to level the playing field.
Training: The creation of more apprentice and training programs is desperately needed. Working with technical schools and community colleges is a fantastic way to get more individuals interested in manufacturing. With training programs, you can find candidates who are able to easily adapt to change and can learn new skills rather than just training them to do one job. Technology is always changing and having employees who can embrace change and learning will serve you far better in the future.
STEM: Many larger corporations such as Facebook, Google and Amazon have made significant contributions to STEM education programs, encouraging young adults to get excited about technology and science. Their hope of course is to train the next generation of employees. Smaller manufacturing firms can have the same powerful effect on their local youth and see direct results by making contributions to their own communities and working with local Chambers of Commerce.
Mentor: Mentoring programs within the company have also proven to be very successful ways of passing knowledge to the next generation. The baby boomers are a wealth of knowledge, and many of them would love to mentor new hires and teach them everything they know. Mentors can also tie into the STEM initiatives, by sharing their experiences with the younger generation and demystifying the unsexiness of having a career in manufacturing – it’s no longer a “dirty job”.
Market Perception If manufacturing hopes to close the skills gap, they need to improve their reputation. Young adults today just don’t understand manufacturing like they used to. Towns that were built around manufacturing no longer have that reputation as a “manufacturing town.” Putting up a help wanted sign no longer brings in hundreds of applicants. While significant steps have been taken to close the skill gap and end the labor shortage, success cannot be achieved without widespread cooperation: recruitment initiatives, targeting younger candidates, and investing in future generations.
Manufacturers big and small can do their part—not just in saving an industry in crisis, but in assuring America’s continued economic prosperity. Manufacturing has an uphill battle but showing employees that there is long term job stability can be a great way to attract new workers. There is a reason why the baby boomers have worked there for 30, 40, or even 50+ years.
Senior Vice President, Commercial Lender