HR Management & Compliance

The Manufacturing Skills Gap Is Here—Be Part of the Vocational Training Solution

In today’s and tomorrow’s Training Daily Advisor®, we hear from Jeff Owens, COO and president of Advanced Technology Services, Inc. (ATS), on how employers can navigate the manufacturing skills gap.

Owens joined ATS in 1988 and has been chief operating officer and president since 2004. He serves on the board of the Central Illinois Economic Development Corporation and is a member of the Illinois Business Roundtable.
America’s skills shortage continues to plague the manufacturing industry. According to a McKinsey & Company report, 45% of U.S. employers blame a lack of necessary skills as the leading reason for entry-level vacancies.
Even more recently, the 2015 Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap Study states that nearly 3.5 million manufacturing positions will open up over the next 10 years—with nearly two million of those jobs going unfilled because skilled workers are not available.
Compounding the situation is the continuing perception that a college degree is the only avenue to a solid career. The New York Federal Reserve reports that the unemployment rate for recent college graduates, while improving, still hovers at more than 43%. The underemployment rate for recent graduates is over 44%—about 7% higher than in 2000.


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Despite the fact that Baby Boomers are retiring at an ever-increasing rate, it seems Generations X and Y remain unconvinced that the manufacturing sector can provide a ready, fulfilling, and rewarding future.
Industry associations, government agencies and trade groups, as well as non-profit and for-profit colleges and vocational schools are all seeking to change attitudes. Unfortunately, these entities, while well-intentioned, don’t always have the knowledge and resources to meet the needs of manufacturers who must deal directly with the problem.
It’s time for U.S. manufacturers to play a more active role in meeting the vocational training challenge. By helping to alter the course of this vast public/private ship, manufacturers can once again depend on sufficient numbers of young people moving into the technical careers America so badly needs.

Raise the Visibility of Manufacturing

The best way to start is by raising the visibility of manufacturing as a viable career alternative before young people make their post-high school decisions. High school juniors and seniors are not getting the information they need, which allows old ideas and misperceptions to persist.
Job fairs and in-school presentations at high schools are great places to spread the message. Even more effective, however, is digital outreach. HR professionals should consider placements on professional websites for academic and job counselors, as well as social media campaigns directed at both the students and their parents. The task of changing perceptions must begin early—and it must be persistent.


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Of course, message is as important as timing. Young people must be able to see and appreciate the appeal of manufacturing careers in order to consider something besides a four-year college degree.
It’s important to understand the “Millennial” mindset; salary, while definitely important, is not always the main issue. Quick employment, creative and intellectual challenges, work/life balance, overtime opportunities, and paths for promotion are also key factors for a new generation of workers seeking fulfillment and security.
Another important channel for changing attitudes is the media. For all the talk these days among education pundits about Common Core, school funding at the secondary level, and crushing student loans in the post-secondary world, very little is said about the huge misperceptions of manufacturing careers. Reporters and editors need to be continually encouraged to talk about the “new world” of American manufacturing and the fresh opportunities it presents to the incoming workforce.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, more from Owens on the manufacturing skills gap, including how employers can forge partnerships and conduct effective training programs.