USA & Canada
USA & Canada
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How public perceptions are driving the current manufacturing skills gap.

aaron pearson
Aaron Pearson March 25, 2020
March 25, 2020

You’ve probably read the most recent headlines proclaiming that the economy is changing and employers in certain industries are growing more and more concerned about a shortage of qualified candidates able to fill open positions due to a ‘skills gap’ or general labor shortage. But there is another, less reported facet of this story.  Many of the same jobs that are facing worker shortages in the upcoming decade are also jobs that no one seems to want.  Adding additional complexity to this equation is the fact that these are also industries that digital will highly disrupt in the coming years.  Farming and Manufacturing specifically still have significant efficiency and design centered gains to be made with the implementation of the IOT into existing systems that currently rely on the labor of human beings. 

How does this conceptual and disruptive vision of the future really impact what’s happening on the hiring lines of today’s biggest manufacturers in the united states? Does the skills gap really exist and what’s being done to close it?  And how are these factors impacting the way people view jobs in the manufacturing sector? In 2016, Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute set out to look at these very questions, conducting a multi-year research initiative to help business leaders develop answers to these, and other pressing questions facing their industries.  What they realized in this study, and a factor that varied from previous studies conducted, was that in 2016, the topic seems to have reached an important inflection point. The study found that 8 in 10 Americans surveyed view US manufacturing as vital to maintaining the economic prosperity of the country. However, less than 5 in 10 Americans surveyed believe manufacturing jobs are interesting, rewarding, clean, safe, stable, and secure. Manufacturing was also not a preferred industry to start a career in, with 3 in 10 Americans surveyed saying they would encourage their children to start a manufacturing career. What was even more surprising about the survey results were that when asked about their perceptions of what the future of manufacturing looks like, the viewpoint was overwhelmingly positive, with many Americans, 88 percent, believing that manufacturing jobs of the future will require high-tech skills and 81 percent believing these jobs will be clean and safe.  

Collaborating to Close the Gap

Industry 4.0 Control Room
So, what are some of the solutions the United States should look to employ to change the public perception of manufacturing from one rooted in perceptions of a dark and dirty past, to one that is innovative and high-tech, quickly taking shape, and critical to  the future? It seems imperative to the health of the US economy to widen the pool of qualified candidates in order to attract the talent needed to staff the highly-technical and skilled roles of today’s manufacturing environment and fuel future workforce devlopment.  Technical schools and community colleges countrywide are working with manufacturers, non-profit and government agencies to develop curriculums that equip students with in-demand skills. Additionally, these same institutions, and manufacturers themselves, are beginning to understand their role in transforming public perception.  For many years, manufacturing companies invested in equipment, facilities and technology, but lagged in investing in human capital, their existing workforce, and thus  they struggled to adapt to operations in newer more technologically advanced environments. Technical schools and community colleges, like the Dunwoody College of Technology, recognized this and have worked with private industry to address the growing need and ever-present skills gap by offering additive manufacturing and other certification programs which focus on specific skills that employers have identified as especially hard to find in the existing candidate pools.  

Another example of a worker training program that is quickly answering public perception and skills gap issues in manufacturing is the America Makes organization.  They are the nation’s leading partner in additive manufacturing and 3D printing technology research, discovery, creation, and innovation. The organization is structured as a public-private partnership and they work to innovate and accelerate additive manufacturing with the objective to increase the United States’ global manufacturing competitiveness. Their curriculum offers technical skills-based training and apprenticeships that span a range of in-demand jobs, with a focus on growing the 3D workforce.  

While changing public perception takes time, progress is being made.  Through education, training programs, bi-directional education/industry engagement, strong advocacy and excellent marketing the United States manufacturing economy will grow and prosper well into the next century.  

Click here to learn more about the path to additive manufacturing certification and how Stratasys is partnering with education providers to address the manufacturing skills gap.