Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Overcoming the Manufacturing Skills Gap

Guest Contributor Derek Singleton of Software Advice

Creating the Skills We Need in Manufacturing

These days, the manufacturing industry is finding itself in the media spotlight. And the coverage as of late has been fairly positive. Manufacturing is showing signs of growth and there have been several stories of manufacturers re-shoring their production from abroad.

Amidst the positive news, there's been a negative point: manufacturers are leaving jobs open because they can't find people with the right talent. According to a recent Deloitte report, as many as 600,000 jobs remain unfilled because of a skills gap.

A significant amount of media attention on the skills gap has focused on what is driving this deficit. In my opinion, the much more important thing to focus on is how we can overcome the skills deficit. I think we can get over it in three ways:

1. Expand educational partnerships with industry;

2. Reintroduce corporate in-house training programs; and,

3. Get young people interested in manufacturing again.

The first two strategies will help solve the workforce needs of today while the latter will help solve those of tomorrow.

Expanding Educational Partnerships with Industry

One of the best ways to deal with the manufacturing skills gap is to expand partnerships with educational institutions such as technical colleges. These partnerships offer an existing network that is ready and able to equip people with the skills they need to fill an open job.

One partnership that's done a great job helping individuals revamp their skills set is Tooling U. Tooling U is an online training program that provides curricula on everything from CNC machine programming to welding--two skills that happen to be amongst the highest in demand. They partner with industry experts, manufacturing firms, and education institutions.

Since being founded, Tooling U has helped more than 100,000 people adapt to the new skills of manufacturing. These partnerships should be expanded because they're already a proven model of training.

Reintroduce Corporate In-House Training Programs

Beyond expanding educational partnerships, manufacturers should focus on creating their own in-house training programs. Apprenticeship and in-house training can help manufacturers get talented people up to speed quickly.

Unfortunately, the last few decades have seen a steady decline in apprenticeship and in-house training programs--mostly due to budget constraints. However, a recent study by our neighbors across the pond suggests that manufacturers should re-invest in these programs.

In a UK study, roughly 80 percent of surveyed UK manufacturers said that their apprenticeship program makes them more productive. A full 83 percent said it would help them fill their future work needs. This suggests that manufacturers here don't necessarily need people with the exact skills they're looking for, they just need talented individuals that are ready to learn.

Get Young People Interested in Manufacturing Again

Of course, overcoming the skills gap in the near-term doesn't do much if the next generation is disinterested in pursuing manufacturing. In order for the youth to consider a manufacturing career, they need to be exposed to it in a way that's fun and educational.

I recently came across a program called STEM Goes to Work that I think does a great job of this. STEM Goes to Work is a program that coordinates classroom lessons with tours of a manufacturing facility. The tours give students the opportunity to see their various manufacturing career opportunities and learn about what it takes to land one of those jobs.

To add an element of fun, the students are often given a challenge that is specific to the facility they're visiting. For instance, when students toured a gear manufacturing facility, they had to figure out how to make functional gears out of Styrofoam.

Sure these programs don't teach manufacturing-specific skills explicitly. But they help kids learn to think critically, which is crucial for picking up any skill later in life--whether it be in manufacturing or another industry.

What are your thoughts on filling the skills gap? Please visit me over at Software Advice, a site reviews manufacturing resource planning software.. You can leave me a comment on my original article at: Three Ways to Overcome the Manufacturing Skills Gap.

Derek Singleton graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles with a BA in Political Science. Shortly after graduating, he began writing for Software Advice. - an independent research firm that reports on manufacturing technology, topics and trends - as an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Market Analyst.

He covers the distribution, manufacturing and supply chain software markets with special attention paid to the business benefits of information technology.