Industry Market Trends
Solving the Manufacturing Skills Mismatch
March 5, 2013
On Feb. 20, a group of manufacturing employers, educators, and trade associations assembled for a closed-door session to discuss the skills gap in an event hosted by recruiting firm Manpower. IMT spoke with event organizers about the strategies emerging to bridge the skills gap and what manufacturers can do to secure talent. "In the wake of technology advances, the bar has been raised when it comes to the skills manufacturers are seeking in employees. As a result, people with the right skill set are increasingly hard to find," Jorge Perez, Manpower's senior vice president, told IMT. The session was invitation-only, and included Fortune 200 companies as well as small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses across the U.S. Perez declined to reveal which organizations were represented. He did, however, talk at great length about the solutions proposed and debated at the event. Primary focus was on a series of reports based on a study by business strategist Tom Davenport. The study takes a deeper look at the disconnect between the knowledge and training that young workers are receiving and the skills needed for the positions manufacturers are trying to fill. According to Manpower, the technician role is the toughest job to fill in the industrial employment market. A technician is expected to "program, operate, troubleshoot, and maintain the increasing number of computer- and network-driven manufacturing devices in the contemporary factory," the report says. That includes CNC machines, 3-D printers, robot systems, and other devices that communicate through local area networks. Techs require a blend of skills that make them part software engineer, part hands-on mechanic, and part graphic designer, depending on the specific device and its operation. The rise of advanced automation technologies is a major reason why American manufacturing is lauded for being more productive and providing better quality goods than its competitors. This, in turn, has created a widening demand-and-supply gap for techs. How do we replenish the number of techs in America? While some larger companies have developed their own individual solutions by working with local educational institutions, Perez told IMT that there is no scalable, national model in place to provide the necessary workforce training. At the Feb. 20 session, manufacturers agreed there is "no silver bullet" to the skills gap, but two overarching strategies did emerge:
- Increase technician-specific training courses, programs, and certifications; and
- Bolster the image of manufacturing to make it more "glamorous."