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    The Manufacturing Skills Gap

     

    Part I and Part II of our series on the manufacturing skills gap highlighted different ways federal, state and local governments along with academic institutions can help to bring an end to the skills gap. Considering the shortage of qualified workers the skills gap has created, perhaps no party is more motivated to close it than employers. In addition to hefty financial losses, the skills gap also contributes to:

     

    • Lower morale
    • Decreased productivity
    • A decline in each employee’s quality of work

     

    Although building partnerships with government agencies and academic institutions addresses the absence of apprenticeships, employers must also recognize another significant cause of the skills gap – negative perceptions of manufacturing among younger generations.

     

    Debunking Manufacturing Myths

    According to the Public Perception of Manufacturing series conducted from 2009 to 2015 by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, Americans consistently rank manufacturing low on their list of career choices, despite considering it a key component of a strong national economy.

     

    In the 2015 study, only 37 percent of respondents indicated they would encourage their children to pursue a career in manufacturing. Those more familiar with the industry, however, have more favorable perceptions of manufacturing, and are twice as likely to encourage their children to pursue a career in it.

     

    Becky McMorrow, Global Product and Supplier Marketing Manager at electronics distributor Newark element14, described the importance of providing students with experience in the manufacturing industry.

     

    “Manufacturers can dispel negative perceptions of the industry by providing young or aspiring engineers with more internship opportunities, as well as by facilitating open houses that give students and novice workers alike the chance to experience firsthand a career in manufacturing, rather than relying upon preconceived notions or word-of-mouth.”

     

    Manufacturers are wasting no time in doing exactly that. As part of National Manufacturing Day 2015, thousands of employers across the country hosted open houses to give people a glimpse at what a career in manufacturing is really like. In Rockford, Illinois, about two dozen manufacturers welcomed more than 450 high school and middle school students and teachers into their facilities. The hope is that as these students build greater awareness of manufacturing, they will begin to consider the possibility of someday working in the industry.

     

    Bolstering Educational Systems

    While dispelling negative rumors surrounding the manufacturing industry is an important step in narrowing the skills gap, familiarity alone may not be enough. Apprenticeship programs fell 40 percent between 2003 and 2013 despite the fact that interest in STEM careers is at an all-time high in the U.S.

     

    In order to help combat this problem, manufacturers are taking on a more active role in boosting the number of internship and certification programs offered by academic institutions. Siemens, a prominent manufacturer of medical diagnostics equipment, sent professors from North Carolina to Germany so they could learn about advanced manufacturing and machine tooling techniques. Those newly-acquired skills were then put to use in manufacturing training programs offered by Charlotte-area community colleges.

     

    As manufacturers continue their involvement with local schools and community colleges and build exposure to the industry, the manufacturing skills gap will continue to diminish. Closing it entirely, however, won’t be that easy. Government agencies, academic institutions and employers will all have to work together in order to make the manufacturing skills gap a thing of the past.

     

    “The only way to close the manufacturing skills gap for good is by everyone working together - private companies, federal and local governments and academic institutions,” Becky said. “Since one affects the other, all need to leverage their unique resources and abilities to empower the next generation of industrial engineers.”

     

    This is Part III and the conclusion to our series on the manufacturing skills gap.

    Individual installments in this series: