The Talent Tipping Point: Why it’s Critical for Manufacturers to Embrace STEM

Oct. 5, 2016
There is a critical need to address the talent issue in manufacturing. The good news is, there are a number of ways to build a more competitive industrial workforce.

On Friday, October 7th, we come together as an industry to celebrate National Manufacturing Day. When I think about the issues that are drastically reshaping the manufacturing industry, one topic comes to mind immediately:


The concern around manufacturing talent began decades ago, when the post-WWII boom in U.S. manufacturing brought about a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills shortage. Since then, the industry has only become more complicated.

In fact, we have entered a new manufacturing skills era with two major trends running on parallel tracks. First, we are seeing aggressive pushes to upskill traditional line workers through a variety of ways with a greater emphasis on embracing digital manufacturing as automation relentlessly takes on human tasks that are repetitive, onerous and even dangerous. At the same time, manufacturers are in hot pursuit of highly trained professionals (computer coders, app developers, data scientists, 3D printing specialists) to bring digital manufacturing from its current incipient stage to more mature levels over the next decade.

The fact of the matter is, there are some companies that have not yet felt the impact of the skills shortage, but that doesn’t mean they should not be preparing for it. In fact, according to PwC’s Upskilling Manufacturing report, published in conjunction with the Manufacturing Institute, 33% of manufacturers say they have no or only a little difficulty hiring talent to exploit advanced manufacturing technologies. But the number of job openings still outpace the number of hires for the industry, further underscoring the critical need to address the talent issue.

The good news is, there are a number of ways to build a more competitive industrial workforce, ranging from the practical and widely used to more wild card solutions, including:

  • Practical and widely used:
    • Train in the workplace – This is what most manufacturers do today to advance the skills of their workforces. They believe they are best placed to teach employees how to make use of new technologies, and fit them to their business needs.
  • Practical and increasingly in use:
    • Train outside of the workplace – Manufacturers are teaming up with community colleges or vocational schools to meet demand for different skills and equipment. Vendors and online courses are also expanding in this space.
    • Recruit STEM graduates directly – This is typically done via job fairs, well-crafted internships, and above all, productive relationships with educational institutions.
  • Not widely used, but poised to grow quickly:
    • Hire outside the industry – Production jobs draw a significant amount of interest from job seekers outside manufacturing and these jobs often require skills from other fields (e.g., gaming, CAD simulation, and virtual reality).
  • Promising, but untested for the U.S. labor market:
    • Apprenticeships – This imported German concept is gaining more adherents in the U.S., particularly among government officials and others who study labor trends.
  • Wild cards:
    • Import talent from outside the U.S. – A majority of manufacturers surveyed by PwC (60%) believe that the industry would be more competitive if it were easier for foreign nationals with the relevant technology skills to work in the U.S. However, this is a wild card, given the uncertainty around the likelihood of the U.S. continuing to raise the number of visas for skilled, non-U.S. workers.
    • Leverage the maker generation and gig economy – Lowering costs of industrial tools such as design software and 3D printing are making it possible for small start-ups to prototype products. Manufacturers will likely be looking to makers for more than orders; they could represent a deep and growing reservoir of talent to enlist to their ranks.

I ask my colleagues in the industrial manufacturing industry to spend National Manufacturing Day thinking about your talent situation. Are you prepared for the future? Do you have the right balance of skill sets among your employees to tackle the Factory of the Future? And what can you do to get there?

To learn more about tackling the manufacturing talent challenge, visit: and join the conversation on Twitter using #MFGtalent.

Robert McCutcheon is U.S. Industrial Products Leader at PwC.

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