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Where Are All the Highly-Skilled Workers?

Now hiring! Help wanted! These are the signs of our times. While many Americans understand that the national economy has picked up steam and unemployment rates are at their lowest levels in decades, most remain unaware that the nation’s manufacturers are in the midst of a full-blown workforce crisis.

Technology is rapidly transforming modern manufacturing, which is in the early stages of a Fourth Industrial Revolution powered by advanced technologies, such as robots, automated machines, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). As a result, there’s currently a tremendous demand for highly-skilled workers to make the most of these advances in technology.

Unfortunately, manufacturers can’t just go out and hire the highly-skilled workers they need, because such workers are in very short supply. It’s also not easy to retrain current workers to develop the skills they need, because production demands usually outweigh training concerns. To increase the number of highly-skilled workers available to manufacturers, several obstacles must first be overcome.

Skills Gap

In today’s advanced manufacturing environment, the sizeable disparity between the supply of highly-skilled workers and the demand for these workers is commonly known as the “skills gap.” The National Association of Manufacturers’ most recent Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey revealed that 73 percent of manufacturers identify the skills gap as their top concern.

How big is the gap? According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, there were 522,000 open manufacturing jobs in the United States as of October 2018. That’s a new all-time high, which is even more surprising when you consider that there was a net increase of approximately 39,000 new employees in manufacturing in October.

Unfortunately, these figures are only projected to get worse in the future. A study conducted by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute estimates that, over the next decade, almost 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled. However, because of the skills gap, as many as 2.4 million — more than half! — of those jobs could go unfilled.

The workforce crisis created by the skills gap can’t be overstated. More than a quarter of manufacturers claim the lack of enough highly-skilled workers has already forced them to decline new business opportunities.

It’s a problem that affects all industries and big and small companies alike. Sadly, there’s no quick fix available. To attract new employees to manufacturing careers, manufacturers must first tackle their ongoing image problems.

Image Problems

Manufacturers and educational institutions across the country are coordinating efforts to increase interest in manufacturing careers. However, manufacturing as a whole suffers from ongoing negative image problems.

What do most Americans think of when they envision a career in manufacturing? Too often, the images that come to mind are of boring, repetitive jobs in gritty facilities. These outdated views associate manufacturing with dirty environments that only offer low-skill, low-pay jobs.

The reality is that modern advanced manufacturing facilities can offer some of the most exciting, technology-rich work environments available today. Plus, they’re increasingly filled with high-skill, high-pay jobs.

Robots and the other advanced technologies revolutionizing modern manufacturing require pristine environments. Plus, these new automated technologies create interesting jobs operating, maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing these high-tech systems.

It will take time to rehabilitate the image of manufacturing to reflect these new realities. Meanwhile, manufacturers and educational institutions must continue to promote awareness of manufacturing opportunities in order to increase interest in career and technical education (CTE) programs that teach the skills manufacturers need.

Targeted Training

Many secondary and post-secondary educational institutions offer a wide variety of CTE programs to prepare students for careers in manufacturing. For example, most high schools collaborate with local community colleges to offer CTE-focused dual enrollment programs, allowing high school students to satisfy graduation requirements while simultaneously earning college credits.

These and other programs can lay the foundation for a successful career in manufacturing by pairing real-world experience with the acquisition of hands-on skills. They provide students a variety of options after graduation: entering the workforce immediately, obtaining an industry-standard certification, and/or pursuing a post-secondary degree in an advanced field of study.

While current programs certainly help to increase interest in manufacturing careers, many of these programs may not be robust enough to train workers with the full scope of advanced skills necessary to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair today’s advanced automated systems. Educational institutions will need to enhance and extend current offerings to include the technical and technological skills manufacturers need.

To most effectively and efficiently match manufacturers’ needs with CTE curricula, educational institutions must proactively seek industry involvement to help shape future programs. At the same time, more must be done to encourage interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers.

STEM Education

Underlying all of the obstacles to increasing the supply of highly-skilled workers is the historically-poor performance of U.S. schools when it comes to STEM education. When primary and secondary schools don’t produce students who excel in STEM, the talent pipeline necessarily narrows.

There is reason for optimism, though. In December 2018, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) published a five-year plan to improve STEM education in America. The plan was based on a vision of “a future where all Americans will have lifelong access to high-quality STEM education and the United States will be the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.”

The strategic plan envisions an interdisciplinary approach to STEM education that “includes the teaching of academic concepts through real-world applications and combines formal and informal learning in schools, the community, and the workplace.” One of the plan’s stated aspirational goals focuses on future workers:

Prepare the STEM Workforce for the Future — both college-educated STEM practitioners and those working in skilled trades that do not require a four-year degree — by creating authentic learning experiences that encourage and prepare learners to pursue STEM careers. A diverse talent pool of STEM-literate Americans prepared for the jobs of the future will be essential for maintaining the national innovation base that supports key sectors of the economy and for making the scientific discoveries and creating the technologies of the future.

To the extent the OSTP’s STEM initiative achieves success, educational institutions will see more students pursuing STEM careers and manufacturers will one day get the highly-skilled workers they so desperately need.

Amatrol Can Help Bridge the Skills Gap

While manufacturers and educational institutions work to overcome the obstacles limiting the supply of highly-skilled workers needed to make the most of the advanced technologies revolutionizing modern manufacturing, Amatrol is helping to bridge the skills gap by designing and manufacturing skills-based, interactive technical training systems for industry and education.

Amatrol offers technical training solutions targeted at the in-demand skill sets necessary to operate and repair advanced automation systems, including: print reading, fluid power, mechanical, electronics, robotics, computer-integrated manufacturing, mechatronics, and automation. Moreover, Amatrol offers training systems focused specifically on maintaining and troubleshooting these systems.

In addition to physical trainers that teach hands-on skills with real-world industrial components, Amatrol’s technical training solutions include in-depth multimedia eLearning curriculum that includes stunning 3D graphics and videos, voiceovers of all text, and interactive quizzes and exercises designed to appeal to learners with different learning styles. Many systems are also offered in convenient portable versions that can be easily transported between locations for on-demand training wherever it’s needed.

Visit Amatrol online to learn how you can leverage its technical training expertise to train tomorrow’s workforce today. Together, we can bridge the skills gap and continue to transform the global workforce one life at a time.


About Duane Bolin

Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.

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