The Root Cause for the Industrial Skills Gap is a Matter of Interest

Jul 02, 2018

By: Meaghan Ziemba, Content Marketing Manager, Advanced Machine & Engineering

It is no secret that American manufacturers are facing an industrial skills gap as the last of the baby boomers prepare for retirement. According to the Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute study, over two million manufacturing positions will be left unfilled within the next decade due to the lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills among workers. 

Infographic from the Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute study.
Infographic from the Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute study.

Manufacturers are joining forces with community leaders and educational institutions to provide hands-on opportunities to high school and college students in an attempt to close the gap, but robust apprenticeships are only solving part of the problem.

Manufacturers are accustomed to practicing root cause analysis to address quality issues in manufacturing operations. The idea is to treat the problem not the symptoms of the problem. Many industry leaders believe an interest gap is the root cause underlying the industrial skills gap.

Perhaps the root cause of the skills gap is an interest gap. Younger generations are quick learners; however, the biggest challenge facing the skills gap stems from their lack of interest in learning the techniques for manufacturing and engineering opportunities because of certain misconceptions surrounding the trade.

Dispelling the Four D’s of Manufacturing

Doug Jensen, President of Rock Valley College, believes there are four main misconceptions discouraging the younger generation from pursuing careers related to the field:

  • Dirty
  • Dark
  • Dangerous
  • Dull

According to the Economics Public Institute, 52 percent of surveyed teenagers said they had no interest in manufacturing.

The Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute study also reported that Generation Y respondents ranked manufacturing last among seven domestic industries in terms of their career choice—with 53 percent saying perceptions of the industry made it hard to recommend jobs.

To dispel the four D’s of manufacturing, we need to identify the root cause of each.

Dirty—Manufacturing Environments are Outdated and Dirty

According to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) survey, more than 20 percent of parents viewed manufacturing as an outdated and/or dirty work environment. While this may have been true during the early years, many of today’s manufacturing environments look more like clean rooms with laboratory-like settings. Companies are required to meet strict industry standards to produce the highest quality products and a healthy, safe environment for employees.

Dark—Manufacturing Has No Future in Terms of Careers

Industry 4.0, advanced robotics, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and 3D printing (additive manufacturing) are creating unique job opportunities of the future. Counteracting the old stigma of manufacturing involves compelling stories, technological outreach, community engagement, and networking between manufacturers and the individuals who comprise the workforce of tomorrow.

Dangerous—Manufacturing Jobs are Unsafe

Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma practices have improved many facilities’ safety ratings. By eliminating waste and unnecessary steps within a manufacturing system, companies can monitor potential dangers more effectively and avoid them in the future.

Dull—Manufacturing Is Not Exciting, Stimulating, Challenging, or Engaging

Today’s manufacturing is more advanced and requires a different skill set. Engineering software and 3D design have created unique opportunities in solar, biomedical, game design, medical devices, aerospace, and more. Other positions require complex skills to operate machines that maximize efficiency. The best workers are constantly thinking of new ways to develop a product’s design or production—they are not just carrying out repetitive tasks.

There are also sensing and process control developments that enable manufacturers to monitor the production process from start to finish. Workers can easily detect minor shifts in conditions that could lead to process failures, sending alerts to operators or plant managers via cell phone.

Engage, Encourage, Connect

Manufacturing is the backbone of the economy. For every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.89 is added to the economy - the highest multiplier effect of any economic center. Manufacturers need to develop creative ways that will engage, encourage, and connect younger generations to the industry for them to consider it as a career choice so our economy can continue to prosper.

One option is to get involved with industry events that explain the why’s of manufacturing processes. Events like FIRST Robotics dive deep into various processes by providing hands-on experiences for the students designing and creating the robots. It inspires young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, and immediately provides the skills that today’s manufacturers need.

Another option is to partner with industry organizations that generate interest through programs that focus on technical skills such as:

  • Coding
  • Engineering Design
  • Cad Drawing
  • Fabrication
  • Machining
  • Electrical

Trade schools and alternative education like apprenticeship programs provide hands-on experience in parallel with weekly classes. Students learn the various skills associated with the trade and receive the necessary work-and-learn experiences to perfect their skills. Another benefit of apprenticeships is that students get paid as their earning their education. It shifts away from the notion that one’s success is dependent on a college education that could place someone in a situation of debt.

The key is to tap into the interests of students at an early age, and show them how they can tie those interests into a successful career in manufacturing and engineering. Manufacturers need to be proactive and engage with students, as well as their influencers, as much as they can.

 

Comments (1)

  1. John DeYoung:
    Sep 03, 2018 at 10:14 PM

    While this article and others like them make for interesting reading, when an older (55+) engineer is looking for work and is constantly turned down for having too much experience or the "wrong" skillset, these articles seem to lack credibility, and are just another stab in the side of the un or under employed engineer.

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