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Tackling the Manufacturing Skills Gap

The manufacturing skills gap is a serious problem that is only getting worse. The Manufacturing Institute estimates there were 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in the U.S. in 2011—and that that number will rise to 2 million by 2025. One has to ask why, in the current job market, so many good-paying manufacturing jobs are going unfilled. Here are a few key factors:

  • Increasing retirement rates of older skilled workers
  • Increasing labor needs of U.S. manufacturers
  • Negative image of manufacturing work among the young
  • Failure of educational institutions to provide relevant training

Training and development business education concept with a hand holding a group of gears transfering the wheels of knowledge to a human head made of cogs as a symbol of acquiring the tools for career learning.

Colleges, along with the U.S. Department of Labor, are currently working to improve technical skills programs. However, businesses should not depend on those entities alone to fix the problem. They must be proactive.

Advanced Manufacturing Competency Model

In a previous post, my colleague, Patricia Bruhn, talked about the skill sets management teams need to move their small business from the stagnant “plateau” stage to one of sustained growth. She stressed the importance of adding strategic planning and operational competencies to the management skill set. Part of strategic planning is to also address the employee skills gap. A company cannot succeed without the “right employees on the bus”.

One effective strategy is implementing a Skills Certification program, in which businesses provide training on core competencies directly or in partnership with local colleges. The Manufacturing Institute offers a framework for developing certification programs, called the Advanced Manufacturing Competency Model. It serves as a guide for attracting and training workers who can perform “critical work functions in a defined work setting.”

Industry leaders have also developed specific competency models. Some are text-based, while others use diagrams. Examples include:

  • Advanced manufacturing
  • Automation
  • Mechatronics
  • Logistics

Graduates With Transferable Skill Sets

While students are going through certification programs, businesses can proactively start recruiting college graduates who have not found jobs in their field of study. For instance, graduates with architecture degrees have a high unemployment rate—but they also have transferable technical skills like reading blueprints. By working with consulting organizations and college placement services, manufacturers can often turn such candidates into skilled resources in as little as two to three months. I’ve witnessed this approach work effectively within the insurance industry whereby degreed teachers were leveraged to fill key IT roles like project managers, business analysts and programmers. The primary benefit was getting motivated skilled workers on the job sooner then waiting for a new set of college grads to obtain certifications.

The key is to create a talent pipeline program tied to the company’s strategic plan. To jump start your business’s program, take advantage of the Manufacturing Institute’s tool kits.

Next time, I will talk about other options for manufacturing companies to resolve the skills gap issue.

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