Lately we’ve been mentioning or dedicating entire entries to addressing the talent shortage in the U.S. manufacturing field….and for good reason. It’s an issue we are hearing about from our many NJ manufacturing contacts. Manufacturing jobs in the United States have dramatically evolved over the past decade, requiring employers with higher, more technologically advanced skills.
While improvements in the industry are welcome and denote progress, there’s an unfortunate side-effect: to a shortage of qualified employees throughout America. A report by the Manufacturing Institute conveyed that approximately 600,000 manufacturing jobs in the U.S. were left unfilled.
Here are three main (and connected) causes:
1) America’s Perception of U.S. Manufacturing Careers
Simply put, today’s job seekers have the wrong perception of our industry. When people hear “manufacturing,” they often think of jobs as “dark, dirty and low-paying positions.” However, today’s various manufacturing companies offer clean, healthy environments for high-skilled workers. Today, most manufacturing jobs require employees to manage sophisticated equipment and the salaries offered to these workers reflect the expertise necessary to operate such technical machinery. In some industries, experienced technicians earn between $50,000 and $100,000 per year. There are also a variety of manufacturing positions…sales / marketing…HR… engineers…etc.
2) A Retiring Workforce
According to a report by ThomasNet.com, nearly 80 percent of manufacturing jobs are held by people between the ages of 45 and 65 and as many as one-third of them are planning for retirement in the next few years. Now let’s look at the disparity: the unemployment rate for younger workers between the ages of 18 to 29 currently stands at around 16 percent. The younger generation rarely considers manufacturing as a viable industry or has the perception that working in the industry is for people with few skills. This connects with cause #1.
3) Cultural Disinterest in Manual Arts
The problem may go further than the perception of manufacturing. Americans are growing disinterested in manual labor. Research shows that up to 60 percent of American adults avoid performing even minor household repairs and prefer to hire a handyman or contact a property manager. Furthermore, 58 percent say they have never assembled a toy and 57 percent said they had below-average skills for fixing things around the home. This means that these adults aren’t passing manual skills down to their kids. Young people entering the job market have fewer role models regarding manual labor, and this could lead to a reason for the lack of interest in manufacturing jobs. In addition, schools do not portray manufacturing as a career choice, focusing more on preparing students for college than for a trade that could benefit the manufacturing industry.
Action Required: Addressing the Causes NOW
As the talent gap becomes more prevalent, many in the industry are taking steps to dispel the myths about manufacturing jobs. Numerous manufacturing advocates are reaching out to the media and legislators to shine light on the issue (we certainly are!). Some companies are stepping up their recruiting efforts by offering apprenticeship or internships to high school and college students. Others are focusing on working with community colleges, technical schools and institution in an effort to obtain the qualified workers they need for the sophisticated equipment used.
What we can all do is work together to change the perception of U.S. manufacturing and educate the public about the diverse careers that manufacturing has to offer!