A number of U.S. manufacturers are facing a growing challenge: job opportunities without enough applicants with the necessary skills to fill them. This shortage has another name: the skills gap.
Expansion in the field of manufacturing over the last 3 years has played an important role in supporting and strengthening the overall economy — and it’s generally expected that manufacturing will continue to play a crucial role in our country’s economic future. It’s imperative that the right workers are in the right jobs for continued growth… but where are they?
In some areas of the country, demographics are to blame. The workforce consists of baby boomers ready to retire; estimates suggest that nearly a quarter of U.S. manufacturing employees are 55 or older. Boomers bring expertise and experience to the job — and that knowledge could be lost if apprenticeships and mentoring opportunities aren’t continued with the next generation.
Once baby boomers retire, there are fewer and fewer young employees to take their place. Why? Possibly, it’s misconceptions about the industry as a whole. For years young people have been told that manufacturing jobs are headed overseas, or that these types of employment aren’t worthwhile as an educational investment. They’ve heard that the industry is volatile… or it’s “dying.” This negative information has influenced the areas of study and career choices of millions of young Americans.
Many companies, Keystone included, have increased automation to keep up with demand but that’s not the whole answer. Talented production and manufacturing team members can’t be replaced with machines. We’re facing the possibility that the lack of qualified candidates could impact future growth.
Government, schools, and employers must all join forces to create a long-term strategy. Workforce and education programs that link the training of participants to the needs of employers are the best solution. Schools must improve their technical curriculum. Graduates need easy access to training programs. And employers must do their part by providing on-the-job training and good wages. Keystone is currently starting a program to combat this by hiring employees with basic skills, and having our skilled employees mentor them.
In the meantime, the manufacturing industry continues to have opportunities for skilled workers ready for the challenge.