The Skilled Labor Shortage in the Manufacturing Industry

June 18, 2014 | American Manufacturing

Marlin Steel U.S. Manufacturer Over the last decade and a half, the manufacturing industry has been subjected to a great many changes and outright upheavals. From riding high through an economic bubble to struggling through the economic challenges brought on by the popping of said bubble, the manufacturing industry as a whole has struggled to adapt to the ever-changing market.

However, a new challenge is looming on the horizon for manufacturing companies all over the country: a significant shortage of skilled labor to perform manufacturing jobs. According to a survey cited by the McKinsey Global Institute, of more than 2,000 U.S. companies surveyed, 43 percent of manufacturing companies had critical positions go unfilled for more than six months at a time.

The trend of having positions that are critical to a manufacturing company’s very survival going unfilled is expected to get much worse before it gets better. Why? Because, of the current pool of skilled manufacturing industry workers, many are close to retirement age. Every time a company loses a skilled worker to retirement, they lose all of that workers accumulated knowledge and experience as well.

While the old workforce is leaving the industry, there just aren’t enough new recruits coming in to cover these losses. Part of the problem is with the perception that younger workers have of the manufacturing industry. According to an FMA (Fabricators & Manufacturers Association) study, 52 percent of teenagers indicated little to no interest in a manufacturing career. When asked why they weren’t interested in manufacturing, the majority said that it was because they were seeking “a professional career.” For these young people, manufacturing doesn’t even count as a career option.

Working to Encourage America’s Youth to Manufacture

Now that this problem of a skilled labor shortage has been identified, how can the manufacturing industry as a whole work to overcome this issue?

The most obvious way of dealing with this challenge is to step up recruitment efforts, to draw the best talents that are graduating from school to your company and deny these invaluable resources to competitors by getting them first. However, this solution is short-sighted at best, as there aren’t enough qualified people entering the workforce to go around, period. Relying on getting to a potential recruit before anyone else can is problematic.

Instead of trying to snap up what few potential recruits there are, it may be better to promote a more thorough understanding of how the manufacturing industry works in a developed industry. Much of the current perception of manufacturing jobs is taken from tales of overseas sweat shops and horror stories from the start of the industrial era.

The best weapon against ignorance of the viability and importance of manufacturing is knowledge. When young minds think of what it’s like to work in a big factory, they need to have real-world knowledge and experience from a real, on-site tour of a modern manufacturing plant, not just pictures from a book about a 1920’s textile factory.

The misconception that all manufacturing-related jobs involve back-breaking or repetitive work needs to be addressed. Potential recruits need to know what kind of skilled jobs are needed by the manufacturing industry and what each job really entails. For example, many manufacturing jobs require a working knowledge of how to program and repair robotics. Such work is highly skilled and may require certifications in software programming and mechanical engineering.

Manufacturing is no longer the work of an unskilled labor force that just bends wire around a post over and over for hours on end. It is the foundation of a strong economy and a rewarding career path for those with the drive to continually master exciting new skills and technology.

How Marlin Steel Filled Skilled Jobs

Another way to fill needed skilled jobs is to create incentives for your existing workers to learn new job skills to increase operational redundancy and build up your company from within.

Not long ago, Marlin Steel was featured in the pages of FABRICATOR Magazine for the way in which employees were encouraged to take additional training and certifications. By doing this, Marlin Steel was able to fill many critical roles using existing employees.

Taking the time and effort to nurture existing workers can prove to be a great way to not only fill skill gaps, but to demonstrate that any manufacturing job is not the “dead end” job many people who are considering their careers may think.

With some effort and education, we can show the youth of this country that manufacturing jobs are a viable career path, and maybe even stave off the shortage of skilled labor that is being projected by many.