Will The Shrinking Workforce Get You? (Part 2)

    Posted by Rob Gladstone

    Dec 8, 2016 10:12:00 AM

    manufacturing production lineIn Will The Shrinking Workforce Get You? (Part 1) we established that the concept of a shrinking force is real.

    Just to be clear, the shrinking workforce has several factors, (including retiring baby boomers, people giving up on finding jobs, etc.), but we identified three factors that we, as manufacturers may be able affect.

    Those three were:

    1. Manufacturers aren’t taking action
    2. Misalignment between education and business
    3. The stigma of skilled labor

    I have to admit, I struggled to come with action items because these issues seem so large and daunting that there is not much an individual can do to impact them. Hopefully, if enough of us see the issue and take action we can have an impact.

    Control Your Own Destiny – Take Action

    One thing that’s pretty clear is that this problem will likely not be solved unless we, the manufacturers, accept some responsibility for closing the gap so plan to invest in training. Highly skilled manufacturing jobs require apprentice and journeyman skills, requiring an investment in long-term and costly training. The skills and education required are not going to come out of traditional institutions of learning. Today in America, fewer than 5 percent of young people train as apprentices, the overwhelming majority in the construction trades. In Germany, the number is closer to 60 percent—in fields as diverse as advanced manufacturing, IT, banking, and hospitality.

    The U.S. Department of Labor is making $50.5 million in grants available to help states to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to support apprenticeship expansion. It may be worth investigating. If you can’t hire the skills, plan on hiring for raw talent, (specifically problem skills if possible), and teach them the required technical skills.

    Addressing the Misalignment Between Education and Business

    As pointed out in Part 1 of this blog, traditional education is not producing graduates that have the skills required to succeed in manufacturing. Don’t expect that to change any time soon.

    To quote Gardner Carrick of the Manufacturing Institute, “Manufacturing jobs have certainly changed compared to what they were a generation or two ago and what the perception of them may still be. Nearly all of the jobs that were unskilled or semi-skilled have either been automated out of existence or moved offshore in search of cheaper labor. The jobs that are remaining in manufacturing are really focused on operating, maintaining or programming the machines that are doing a lot of the actual manual labor and hard work that used to be done by human beings.

    This has created a shortage of people with the technical skills to perform in today’s manufacturing environments. According to most manufacturers, technical skills and problem solving skills are currently the hardest to find. So, what can we do about this?

    STEM, (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), has become very popular in K-12 education. Where my daughters go to school, they encourage parent involvement in the program including talking about their jobs and setting up tours to see how things are made. We live in Southeast Michigan so there are plenty of opportunities to expose young people to very interesting products and processes. Let’s face it, making stuff is kind of cool. Get involved where you can. Small shifts in Business/Education alignment could make a big difference.

    Affecting the Stigma of Skilled Labor

    A Great resource for manufacturers is the Manufacturing Institute. According to their website, they are “The Authority on the Attraction, Qualification, and Development of World-Class Manufacturing Talent. The Manufacturing Institute publishes a Public Perception of Manufacturing Report that is available on their website. I have reviewed it and it contains some good news and some challenges. The good news is that 77 percent of Americans believe a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority.

    While Americans believe manufacturing should be a “national priority,” they don’t seem to want these jobs for themselves. According to the Perception of Manufacturing Report, “While Americans once again consider manufacturing among the most important domestic industries in terms of helping maintain a strong national economy, they rank it fifth as career choice for themselves — out of the seven industries provided as a possible answer (and Gen Y ranks it last). Additionally, only 37 percent of respondents indicate they would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career. When asked if their parents encouraged them to pursue a career in manufacturing, only 19 percent said yes.”

    How can we, as manufacturers help overcome this perception?

    This is a long and involved issue and there is not enough space or time to give this an adequate amount of attention. While this is starting sound like an advertisement for The Manufacturing Institute, they do have some great resources. A final quote from Gardner Carrick may be a good place to start getting involved. He says, “Our biggest initiative is Manufacturing Day on the first Friday in October. In 2014, we had over 400,000 individuals participate in plant tours of manufacturing facilities in their community. What that does is really demystify manufacturing. It shows that manufacturers have a very advanced workplace – a very clean and safe workplace, and offers a very desirable career. When you couple that with stories about the renaissance of manufacturing, you can combat what was 25 or 30 years of negative press around manufacturing.”

    The bottom line is that there is no easy fix for the shrinking workforce and I do not expect our schools or government to make changes quickly enough to close the gap between supply and demand. If we, the manufacturing community, take the initiative, we may be able to help close our own gaps as well as promoting all of the opportunities that are unfolding in the manufacturing sector.

    With the difficulty of finding qualified labor in the current market, your processes need to be lean and efficient. Get your free ROI calculator to see where your system could be costing you. 


    Topics: Manufacturing

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