As computer-driven tools such as CNC devices, robots and 3-D printers move toward the manufacturing mainstream, forward-looking companies are finding ways to incorporate these tools into their operations. But many companies are also finding that these advances come with strings attached. One big string in particular: finding workers who know how to get the most out of the devices.
"That's the key challenge manufacturers face right now," says Jorge Perez, senior vice president of ManpowerGroup. "It's the talent shortage all across the U.S.—the need for workers who are familiar with the new technologies and know how to use them well. We don't have enough talent available to meet our manufacturing companies' expectations."
This challenge has many facets: finding new workers who know how to use the devices; teaching current employees how to use them; educating tomorrow's workforce about them. And the problem is growing more acute as the pace of technological change accelerates.
"In the wake of technology advances, the bar has been raised when it comes to the skills manufacturers are seeking," Perez says. "As a result, people with the right skill sets are becoming increasingly hard to find."
Manufacturers' inability to find people who have expertise in the new computer-driven technologies is not only growing more acute—it is also spreading to the point that it now affects virtually all manufacturing sectors.
"It's basically across the board," Perez says. "We held a manufacturing council recently, and we interviewed a bunch of companies from different segments in manufacturing. Interestingly, the only segment we saw that wasn't being affected was the shoe industry. All the other sectors—aerospace, heavy manufacturing, light manufacturing, logistics, transportation, etc.—all of them are feeling the effects of the shortage."
The event Perez referred to, the Manufacturing Challenge Council, was held by ManpowerGroup at its Milwaukee headquarters in February. The program consisted of learning and strategy sessions aimed at solving the manufacturing industry's big three-headed challenge: talent, technology and education.
"We created the council to provide a venue for industry leaders to share ideas to create solutions that benefit job seekers and manufacturers," Perez says. "It was aimed at helping manufacturers of all sizes succeed in this technology-driven environment, and helping them get their workers' skills up to date so they can drive economic growth for their companies."
At that February event, business strategist Tom Davenport shared the findings of a research paper he wrote for ManpowerGroup titled "The Future of the Manufacturing Workforce." The report covers the changing technological environment, the rise of the manufacturing technical worker, approaches for educating the workforce about the new technologies, and policy prescriptions to shrink the talent gap.
Among those prescriptions, Davenport advocates that national and state governments coordinate their support of manufacturing technology education, and he entreats community colleges and local manufacturers to work more closely to meet their mutual goals of educating people about new technologies and then placing graduates in jobs at those local businesses.
Davenport also challenges manufacturing executives and industry advocates to create publicity campaigns to attract more young people to manufacturing careers. Along those same lines, ManpowerGroup recently announced plans to expand its Manufacturing Challenge Council into a series of similar events to take place in major manufacturing markets around the U.S. in the months ahead.
|Find out why smartphones now belong on the manufacturing line at iw.com/smartphones-belong.|
"Working together, employers and educators can bring added prestige to increasingly technical manufacturing roles, and thereby attract more young people to these professions," Perez says. "We need to encourage more young people to see manufacturing as a rewarding career path."