The manufacturing skills gap has been a worrisome trend for nearly a decade. The skills gap has been one of the top concerns in the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) Outlook Survey each quarter for the last ten years. A study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute estimates there could be 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030.
This difficulty in attracting and retaining skilled manufacturing workers is due to numerous factors, including a retiring workforce, competition for skilled workers, outdated perceptions about the industry, and the changing skills required for new technologies.
While it is only one aspect of the current skills gap, we’re going to take a closer look at some trends in advanced manufacturing and examine the kinds of employability and technical skills employers should focus on if they want to build a skilled workforce that can adapt and keep pace with an evolving industry.
While “soft” skills like reading, writing, communication, and teamwork will remain vital to employee success, manufacturing workplaces with newer technology like automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence will require some additional employability skills.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) describes the network of connected technology used in manufacturing, like robots, computers, and sensors. Each individual piece of “smart equipment” can be part of a factory-wide network that gathers and analyzes data so the organization can make business decisions more accurately and efficiently. For example, an automated assembly line consistently collecting information about itself can help an engineer find ways to make the process more efficient or enable a technician to do predictive maintenance to reduce downtime.
For this factory-wide network to work well with its human counterparts, manufacturing workers will need a higher degree of digital adeptness than they did in the past. A general understanding of software like Word, Excel, email, and database systems will be useful, as well as industry or job-specific systems like programmable logic controllers (PLCs) used in automation.
With the potential for every piece of digital equipment to collect information, the IIoT gives manufacturers access to more data than ever before. Data on performance, quality, safety, and efficiency can be used to make continuous improvements, reduce costs, and stay competitive.
With this abundance of data comes a need for people who can process, analyze, and apply the data in meaningful ways. Employees with data analysis skills will be able to discern what data is relevant, how to gather data from multiple sources, and how to identify trends and patterns in the data that lead to improvements on the factory floor.
Critical thinking and problem-solving skills were highlighted in the Manufacturing Institute’s recent report “Future Skill Needs in Manufacturing.” The report notes that companies increasingly need employees who can “think on their feet” and quickly identify potential problems before they occur. An all too familiar example of this skill in action is working around supply chain disruptions. Employees who can identify and evaluate viable solutions and optimize available resources (often across different manufacturing timelines) can help minimize the impact of supply chain uncertainty.
The report also notes that employees with experience across multiple departments or systems will have a better understanding of how their work affects the larger company and are better able to forecast potential problems and brainstorm viable solutions.
A 2021 survey found that more than 77% of manufacturers reported making technology investments to achieve cost efficiencies in the production process, with 73.4% doing so to improve their operational performance.
As discussed with employability skills, new technology also brings a need for workers with more specialized technical skill sets.
Automated production lines require technicians who understand how to set up and maintain the various machines involved. Knowledge of specific programming languages and how components of a system work together will be critical. Specific skills include robot operations, frame setup, writing, modifying and executing basic programs, program offset, backup, restorations, and creating and modifying simulations.
Every second counts in modern manufacturing and efficiency is key. Predictive maintenance uses real-time data collected through IIoT to track a machine or asset’s health, status, and performance. Monitoring specific conditions like slow bearing speed, lubrication, and temperature during normal operation can help detect abnormalities that might indicate a future machine failure. Maintenance technicians will need to be familiar with specific machines and systems, the conditions being monitored, and how to use available data to predict machine failures.
Additive Manufacturing (AM), also called 3D printing, is a market that could reach $21 billion globally by 2030. AM is a fundamentally different way of manufacturing because it works by layering material to create a desired product, instead of the more traditional method of removing or subtracting material to form the desired shape.
Like many advanced manufacturing processes, AM isn’t just a single technology but a set of integrated machines and processes. One of which uses computer aided design (CAD) and 3D modeling software to create designs. Employees will need skills in design, material selection, computational modeling, analysis, and engineering. 3D printed objects may also need post-processing (support removal, grinding, sanding, filing, painting, polishing) to create a finished product.
Tips to Prepare Your Workforce for Success
The “Future Skill Needs in Manufacturing” report also contains recommendations on how to prepare your workforce for success. In particular, the authors note, “Filling current and future job openings will hinge upon the manufacturing sector’s ability to link degrees, certifications and other educational offerings with skill needs, as well as training current employees with relevant skills.” The report’s authors advise manufacturers to:
- Implement continuous training for current employees (reskilling or upskilling), especially in the face of skills shortages and other disruptions.
- Conduct a skills gap analysis by creating a “Skill Inventory” of current skills and updating position descriptions to accurately reflect the skills, experience, and certifications needed for the job.
- Offer apprenticeships focusing on aptitudes in specific areas that may be harder to train (like critical thinking) and then train for more technical skills.
- Expand your hiring pipeline by working with curricula developers and local certification programs.
Our mission at Nocti Business Solutions is to help employers accurately assess the skills of their workforce and ensure employees have the correct technical skill for the job. Our library of 200+ technical assessments help organizations place the right people in the right positions. We can also assist with credential development and training solutions—just let us know how we can help solve your workforce challenges!