More Skilled Workers Needed to Fill Growing Job Numbers


The good news is that manufacturing hiring was up in 2014, with forecasts predicting continued increases in 2015 and beyond. The bad news is that there aren’t enough trained skilled workers to fill the jobs available.

A new report released by The MAPI Foundation, the research affiliate of the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, suggests there will be an annual increase of 66,800 manufacturing jobs per year through 2019.

Production in non-high-tech manufacturing is expected to increase 3.8 percent this year and 3.7 percent in 2016. High-tech manufacturing production, which accounts for approximately 5 percent of all manufacturing, is anticipated to grow 8.2 percent this year and 10 percent in 2016.

In Michigan, we are seeing greater demand for skilled CNC prototype machinists, experienced welders, CMM quality technicians, and experienced manufacturing engineers.

However, nearly 98 percent of CEOs say the skills gap is a problem for their companies, according to a recent survey from the nonprofit Change the Equation. Transportation, trade, and manufacturing companies surveyed by the organization represent an employment base of 3.1 million — approximately 2 percent of the entire U.S. workforce.

So what’s keeping us from developing a larger, up and coming, skilled labor workforce? As I argued in DBusiness magazine in 2012, it’s a perception problem that begins in the living rooms and around the dinner tables of American homes. With massive headlines in the media over the last decade showing large manufacturers shedding thousands of jobs, parents have steered their children away from apprentice programs at community colleges and high school classes like metal shop, for fear that their wouldn’t be jobs in manufacturing.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, formal programs that combine on-the-job learning with mentorships and classroom education fell 40 percent in the U.S. between 2003 and 2013.What the headlines didn’t share is that the jobs being discarded are primarily entry-level, low skill-set, “button pusher” jobs.

To address the skills gap, The White House recently announced a $600 million investment in apprenticeship programs. The goal of the administration is to create stronger connections between community colleges and manufacturers, in hopes that graduates of the community college programs will exit with the skills required to land jobs that pay a good living wage.

This is not a new or innovative approach from Washington. When there are millions of Americans unemployed and there hundreds of thousands of jobs unfilled in the manufacturing space, it’s only logical in the eyes of politicians to try to bring those two worlds together.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t publish estimates of job openings by skill category, the Harvard Business Review estimates that as many as 25 million, or 47 percent, of all new job openings from 2010 to 2020 will fall into the middle-skills range. Many of those jobs are in the manufacturing field.

What’s more, state and federal governments can’t address our nation’s shortage of skilled labor on their own. Manufacturers also must put money and resources into training programs, or the numbers of next generation workers will be woefully inadequate.

“Manufacturers — facing the imminent retirement of a large proportion of their workforces — have been embracing apprenticeship programs,” wrote Thomas Kochan, David Finegold, and Paul Osterman, in an article from the December 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review. “The programs are most successful when a group of companies collaborate with each other, or with unions, or when a company is a dominant employer in its industry or region and therefore doesn’t have to worry that other companies will poach its workers.”

Indeed, without qualified staff fluent in the technology that runs today’s factories, manufacturers will not be able to survive.

If the government is serious about creating jobs that directly contribute to GDP, it needs to fund a public relations campaign to attract the next generation skilled labor workforce. In other words, the Blue Collar image needs a makeover.

In a recent Forbes article, 52 percent of teenagers said they aren’t interested in a manufacturing career. The perception in the minds of today’s youth is that manufacturing jobs are dirty and unsafe, and don’t lead to a career with growth or advancement opportunities.

To be the next employer-of-choice, manufacturers need to understand what younger workers are looking for in a job and provide that: flexibility, innovative technologies, and a great workplace culture. By doing so, manufacturers will ensure they develop their next generation employment base.

Todd Palmer is founder and president of Troy-based Diversified Industrial Staffing and Diversified PEOple LLC.