In October 2011, The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte released a report that highlighted a very serious skills gap facing U.S. manufacturers. More than 80 percent of U.S. manufacturing companies reported that they are experiencing a shortage of skilled factory workers, and that translates into as many as 600,000 skilled manufacturing positions that are going unfilled. So at time when the overall U.S. economy is struggling to create jobs during the third year of a “jobless recovery,” the manufacturing sector can’t find enough qualified, skilled workers to fill more than half a million current job openings!
And the manufacturing skills gap is likely to get much worse if it isn’t addressed quickly. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers predicts that the shortfall of skilled factory workers might increase to three million unfilled jobs in the next three years due a pending wave of Baby Boom-age retirements and a strong rebound in U.S. manufacturing, according to a recent Bloomberg article.
What’s causing the skills gap and what’s being done about it?
Part of the skilled-worker shortage is being driven by the ongoing push from parents, teachers and high school counselors for high school graduates to attend four-year colleges, even though many college students are graduating with $20,000 or more in student loan debt and are unable to find full-time employment. Call it the “obsession with college education” or the “overselling” of college education that has perhaps unfairly influenced an entire generation of young Americans.
Here’s how the Bloomberg article explains the situation:
Industrial companies in search of skilled workers cite a common refrain: reluctance by parents and teachers to steer young people to factory jobs. In a 2011 Deloitte survey, only 33 percent of respondents said they would recommend manufacturing as a career for their children, and 19 percent agreed with the premise that “our school system encourages students to pursue careers in manufacturing.”
The article also mentions that the shortage of factory workers can be partly explained by the common misperception held by many Americans that our manufacturing sector is disappearing, despite the fact that we are producing more manufacturing output today than at almost any time in U.S. history, and the fact that manufacturing employment has increased by more than 500,000 jobs since 2010. Therefore, many Americans falsely think of U.S. manufacturing as a contracting sector with reduced output and fewer career opportunities, when the reality is exactly the opposite.
What’s being done to address the skills gap?
One approach to address the skilled factory worker shortage is a new program called “Right Skills Now,” introduced a year ago by The Manufacturing Institute as a fast-track solution to provide focused, accelerated training for some of the skills most needed by industry, like running computer numerical control (CNC) machinery. An article in yesterday’s USA Today titled “Teaching for the Future: Closing jobs skills gap” featured one of the nation’s first “Right Skills Now” programs at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, here’s an excerpt:
There are 64 students taking part in a new program at two Minnesota community colleges called Right Skills Now that trains them in just 16 to 18 weeks to run computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines. At graduation, they’re virtually assured a job in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area at a starting wage of about $18 an hour after a six-week paid internship.
Experts say the program could serve as a national model for employers needing skilled workers yesterday and many jobless Americans unable to spend two years earning an associate’s degree.
“We can’t wait two years or four years,” for students to graduate college, says Darlene Miller, CEO of Permac Industries, a contract manufacturer in Burnsville, Minn., who promoted the idea for the program last year when she was unable to find seven CNC operators. “We need people now.”
Bottom Line: Isn’t it ironic that the one sector of the American economy that has been so disparaged and discounted over the years – manufacturing – is headed for a skilled worker shortage that might be as high as three million job vacancies by 2015? At a time when the U.S. economy faces stubbornly high unemployment and we’re desperately trying to generate job opportunities for millions of unemployed Americans, there are hundreds of thousands of unfilled vacancies in a very unlikely sector of the U.S. economy – manufacturing. With increased training and a change of mindset about the high-paying career opportunities in the thriving manufacturing sector, it might just be American factories over the next few years that will play a vital role in helping the U.S. finally recover from the stubborn “jobless recovery” that started three years ago. The very real possibility that manufacturing might help rescue the ailing U.S. economy in the years to come is something that nobody would have imagined or predicted just a few years ago.