The U.S. manufacturing sector's resurgence is in danger of being squelched by the shortage of young talent the sector faces coupled with baby boomers' negative perceptions about millennials, according to ThomasNet's latest Industry Market Barometer research survey.
The annual survey of manufacturers shows continued growth in the sector, with companies consistently hiring new workers, increasing production capacity, and investing for further growth.
Fifty-eight percent of manufacturers grew during 2013, and 63% expect even more gains by the end of this year, according to the survey.
Moreover, 52% of the responding companies said they expect to add staff in the next several months, up from 42% who planned to add staff last year. To keep pace with projected demand, companies are looking for trained, experienced workers: production management, line workers, skilled trade workers and engineers.
But the long-term shortage of young talent doesn't bode well for the manufacturing sector's ability to sustain its current trajectory.
"For the industry to sustain its steady climb, all the fundamentals need to be in place, and one of them is missing: a robust pipeline of talent," says ThomasNet President Mark Holst-Knudsen.
Some Are Making Inroads
It's an uphill battle attracting students and recent graduates to careers in manufacturing, but some companies are making headway with apprenticeships and community outreach efforts.
"We need new talent everywhere—on the plant floor, in the field, and in management—and getting young people to look at manufacturing isn't easy," says Karen Norheim, executive vice president of American Crane & Equipment Corp.
"To ensure our company's success, our employees have become brand ambassadors for manufacturing," Norheim says. "We're bringing our children to our plants, looking at new internship programs, and reaching out to local colleges and trade schools. By making a local footprint, we're helping to address a national problem."
Forty-six percent of respondents said that in their experience, young people still perceive manufacturing as dirty, blue-collar work, and 43% of the manufacturers surveyed said they believe that the millennial generation lacks the work ethic and discipline to succeed.
"At a time when the American manufacturing sector is poised for a comeback, the talent shortage is the elephant in the room that could impede progress," ThomasNet's Holst-Knudsen says. "It will take the concerted effort of every manufacturer to reach across generational lines and bring in the people who are critical to the industry's continued success."
For its 2014 Industry Market Barometer, ThomasNet surveyed almost 500 manufacturers.
To download the research, go to ThomasNet.com/imb.