The Challenge of Finding Skilled Manufacturing Workers

The shortage of skilled manufacturing workers in the United States is a frequent topic of conversation in trade publications, mainstream media, and at industry conferences. According to an article in Forbes, over the next ten years, the manufacturing industry is projected to fall 2 million workers short of its needs.  This is largely due to the anticipated retirement of over 2.7 million workers in the next decade, coupled with industry growth that projects another 700,000 workers will be required. Reasons for the lack of talent include fewer graduates in related disciplines, the perception that manufacturing jobs are undesirable, and the misconception that they are low paying.

Manufacturing Group Study Reaches a Similar Conclusion

An article in Design News centered on a recent study with the objective of determining what steps are necessary to alleviate the problem. Amongst those surveyed were 45 U.S. electronics industry contract manufacturers and OEMs. The study’s findings are in lockstep with the Forbes article mentioned above.

“Manufacturing is not on the mind of prospective production workers and engineers. “A declining manufacturing sector is coupled with the trend of Baby Boomers who are aging out,” said Sharon Starr, the Market Research Director for IPC, who conducted the study. “Because of this, the younger sector doesn’t have manufacturing on their radar.”

The research found that general assembler and hand solderer are the most difficult positions on the factory floor to fill.  It also cited quality control, process, and entry-level electrical engineers as some of the more challenging roles to locate qualified workers.  Lack of experience was mentioned as the most frequent reason applicants were unqualified. In some instances, there were no applicants at all.

Anecdotal Evidence Supports the Study’s Findings

While studies and journal articles have merit, they are often disconnected from what is happening in the real world. In an effort to find hard evidence of the shortage of manufacturing workers, Sparton sought the input of one of its manufacturing leaders.

“This certainly rings true to what we have experienced in Colorado, said Jesse Ganz Business Unit Director for Sparton’s manufacturing facility in Frederick, CO.  There are several positions that always take extended searches to source properly. That was in the past when the job market wasn’t as tight as it is currently.  I am curious to see what the market bears with unemployment currently at 1.8% in the area,” he added.

Manufacturers Taking Steps to Resolve the Issue

With the societal factors unlikely to change, the industry is taking steps to combat the problem.  According to the Design News piece, The National Association of Manufacturers along with various universities are offering more manufacturing instruction in the curriculum for engineering and two-year programs. Additionally, programs between the manufacturing industry and colleges are developing, particularly at the community college level.

“To that end, we have partnered with several schools in the area to have ‘Manufacturing Days’ at our facility.  We bring in groups of students at the middle and high school levels to show them what we do and the impact it has on customers.  The goal is to drive more of our youth to give manufacturing some thought when they start to consider their career plans,” said Jesse Ganz.

Employee retention and engagement programs are also important tools that aid in tackling the issue. “The Frederick location has put several programs in place around career progression in an attempt to cultivate talent from within. It is far less costly to the company to retain productive employees than it is to constantly be on the search for people to backfill vacated positions,” he added.

Are you finding it difficult to fill manufacturing positions? Is there a shortage of young applicants in your business? What are you doing to remedy the situation? Start the discussion in the comment section below.

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