There is a large demand for skilled workers such as welders, machinists and electricians in the manufacturing industry but not enough applicants have the skill set needed to fill the positions. The manufacturing industry in the U.S. supports roughly 12 million jobs or about 9% of the workforce*. As the industry continues to see a re-shoring trend, hiring new staff is a necessity but there is an apparent skill gap between the applicants and what skills are needed for the positions.
Manufacturers who need skilled workers have had to face some tough decisions in hiring staff, and have turned down applicants who cannot fulfill the skill requirements. The decline in a skilled set has left some manufacturers stuck and unable to grow, forcing companies to hired unskilled workers and train them after the fact, offer increases in pay and benefits to hopefully get the right workers for the positions, and even asking retired workers to come back to work.
Most potential younger workers are looking past manufacturing jobs, thinking of them as dirty, dangerous and with little room for professional growth. Families looking at higher education also tend to look past “blue-collar” choices, pushing for occupations that seem more desirable such as doctors, lawyers or teachers. For some, the words manufacturing or factory automatically creates a mental image of: dirty work spaces, unsafe conditions, and dim lighting. This negative mindset has been a factor in the shortage of skilled workers. Participation in shop classes at the high school level has been on a steady decline, which then may be leading to the reduced numbers enrolling in technical college programs. Students who are not introduced to technical training/classes in high school are less likely to pursue them later in life. Some schools, with budget cuts, have done away with the opportunity to take any shop classes at all. This is another factor influencing the shortage of skilled workers.
Manufacturers must adapt how they hire, how they train and where they look for potential new hires. Changing the public’s perception of the manufacturing industry is a necessity as the need for skilled workers continues to grow. Manufacturing companies are clean, with quiet, high-tech and well laid-out environments. Employers have learned that workers are more productive in environments that are enjoyable to be in. Many companies had employees who started at entry level positions who now are key leaders in the company, showing that there is room from professional growth in the manufacturing industry.
Getting young people interested in the industry and the types of jobs available, increases the chance of growing the skilled set of workers for the future.