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Filling the Manufacturing Skills Gap: An Expert’s Opinion

March 11, 2015

The primary bottleneck in manufacturing today is not production. It’s the lack of a qualified workforce. In a recent article published, the gravity of the skills gap situation – and what manufacturers need to do to remediate it – is brought to light:

According to Manpower Group’s latest “Talent Shortage Survey,” skilled trades positions are the most difficult to fill, and have ranked #1 for the past four years.

Dan Campbell, 2014 chairman of the American Staffing Association, attributes the skills gap to two key ideas, including public perception and lack of educational institution training. Even with jobs becoming more technologically sophisticated and many of the jobs taking place in front of computers, public perception – especially with the up-and-coming Millennial workforce – still sees manufacturing jobs as not as high paying or professional compared to those requiring a suit and tie. So the question becomes: How do we attract the Millennials that currently look down on manufacturing? Campbell suggests looking at their generational traits. For example, Millennials are constantly seeking to improve the workplace, and giving them a voice either through direct meetings or mentorship programs will empower them.

Additionally, collaborating with educational institutions to create manufacturing-specific programs for business, engineering and trade skills would not only improve perception – as attending college is perceived as mandatory today – it would also shrink the skills gap.

Bellevue University recently started an advanced manufacturing degree program. Rob Hewlett, dean of the College of Business at Bellevue, says, “The new manufacturing environment isn’t your father’s manufacturing job. It requires deep planning, thinking, judging and collaborating skills in addition to technical skills. We are building manufacturing craft professionals, not factory workers tied to rigid process and practices.”

Manufacturers as a whole will become more and more dependent on the Millennial generation for their workforce. Attracting them will require changed public perception through educational collaboration and marketing. Parents need to see it as a viable career path for their children, and their children need to see it as a dependable career. And retaining them will require a better focus on adapting to their traits.


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