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4 Ways You Can Attract and Retain Skilled Manufacturing Workers

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As the demand for manufacturing increases, the need for a skilled workforce will grow, but many companies are doing little to address the problem.


There is a growing problem in manufacturing – a skilled workforce shortage, some are calling it. This shortage is increasing as workers retire and new workers aren’t trained or ready to fill them. According to “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing 2015 and Beyond,” the results are ominous, “Over the next decade, nearly three and a half million manufacturing jobs likely need to be filled and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.”

There is plenty of blame to go around. Many young people entering the workforce never considered manufacturing a viable career option. There are also better paying jobs out there for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates since the wages for manufacturing are declining according the National Employment Law Project (NELP). In addition, this problem is also self-inflicted. According to an article by Michael Collins in IndustryWeek, many companies eliminated their internal training programs in the ‘80’s because, “… apprentice-type training was lost in many American corporations because it is long-term training and doesn’t have a ‘good’ ROI.”

No matter the root cause, the industry is reaching the point where continuing to hope for a solution will have an adverse effect on our ability to continue meeting customer demands according to a survey of CEO’s and manufacturing executives. Luckily, there are solutions for a motivated manufacturer:

  1. Make training a priority again. Companies need to see training as a long-term investment.  With a shop floor system like MES or paperless manufacturing, training could include a quick video of machine set-up attached to work instructions. If implementing a full apprenticeship program is too difficult, then look at other alternatives for shop floor training.

  2. Invest in operations. Many manufacturers think of investments only in the long term.  Understandable, considering many shop floor machines last 30 to 40 years. But, companies can’t continue to support outdated software systems which exacerbate the need for specialized training. Modern software systems, better managing manufacturing information, make it easier to replacing retiring workers.

  3. Address the need for machine maintenance on the shop floor.  According to the Collins article, “Why America Has a Shortage of Skilled Workers,” machine operation, maintenance and repair are an area where there is a critical need for skilled workers. Utilizing work instructions for machine maintenance and operation addresses this need with minimal effort. Work instructions offer “training” for the shop floor, with process enforcement and buy-offs mitigating the shortage of skilled workers.

  4. Change the perception of manufacturing.  Many young people entering the workforce perceive manufacturing as a dirty job with little opportunity, especially since the struggles of the auto industry.  Growing up with smart phones and modern computer systems, with a world of information at hand, there is little outward appeal to manufacturing for new workers. It is up to us to change that perception by creating a work environment that better appeals to younger workers.

Many manufacturers still using paper-based manufacturing processes and outdated computer systems are also competing for the next generation of skilled workers. These companies are doomed to fail because they haven’t addressed critical shortcomings in their operations.

The skilled worker shortage is a problem, but it’s a problem that can be overcome for companies willing to embrace the future of manufacturing. We can’t rely on schools and colleges alone to solve the problem, and adding more training and apprenticeships isn’t the answer. Addressing the negative perception of manufacturing as a career will help attract the best new workers, while on-the-job teaching with software solutions to support shop floor training, will position manufacturing for future growth. Want to learn more, or see how your shop floor production can be improved with a modern paperless manufacturing or MES system, then contact CIMx today for more information.