This blog post is the second of three in a series and is excerpted from an excellent article I recently received written by Bekhi Spika of Spika Welding in Lewistown. An abbreviated version is presented here with her permission.  For the first post in this series, click here.

You may have heard that US manufacturers are facing a shortage of skilled workers — a shortage so severe that in 2011, 600,000 jobs went unfilled. What’s the big deal, you ask? Plenty of kids graduate from high school and college each year. Surely they’ll fill that gap.

Actually, they won’t unless we do something about it. As a 2011 report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute discovered,

  • with Baby Boomers approaching retirement, 50% of the current manufacturing workforce will be putting down their tools and picking up their margaritas within the next 10-15 years!
  • Despite the fact that 70% of Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong economy and national defense, and despite the fact that 90% of all manufacturing jobs have medical benefits with average wages upwards of $70K…
  • Youth between 18-24 ranked manufacturing as only the 5th industry in which they would choose to begin their careers, trailing behind technology, energy, healthcare, and communications, and leading only financial services and retail.

With the need for workers so great, and the benefits of working in manufacturing so apparent, what are the steps we can take to bulk up the skilled workforce in our industry?

2. Reach Out To Kids and Women

It’s obvious that the way to capture the mind of a person is to introduce them to an idea at an early age. Our nation needs to focus energy on fostering the talents of hands-on students from the time they begin school. By identifying their interest early on in more technical industries, we can filter them into robotics clubs or welding clubs as soon as they’re in middle school or junior high. Manufacturers need to be promoting manufacturing through plant tours and scholarships. We need to encourage the kids who want to work with their hands to pursue a technical diploma from high school instead of the standard college-prep diploma (assuming the high school has a technical diploma track…many do not). We need to encourage our educators to build both high school and college curriculums to certify students in different skills so that when they enter the workforce, they have some marketable skill — particularly a skill that the Baby Boomers are vacating — such as machining, operating, craft working (such as welding), distributing and other technical positions.

Additionally, efforts to promote women in manufacturing need to be doubled, if not quadrupled. How many women are there in our communities that need jobs after their kids graduate high school? How many women enjoy working with their hands but are stuck behind a computer all day? Many of these women resort to receptionist positions or fast-food jobs — jobs that oftentimes are not challenging and offer little to no advancement opportunities — because they don’t know where else their skills can be utilized. Little known fact: Women are actually great assemblers and welders because women pay close attention to detail. They oftentimes understand communication better. If they were equipped with local continuing ed classes or certificate programs that could gain them the basic skills needed to cut metal or assemble and fit a product together, they could easily take over the manufacturing industry.

Stay tuned for the next post, which discusses a third way we can close the skills gap in today’s workforce.

To learn more about opportunities for pursuing a technical degree in manufacturing, check out our post on the Gianforte Manufacturing Scholarships.