Manufacturing has a long history in this country and helped fuel America’s status as an economic powerhouse through much of the 20th Century. While the traditional image of the manufacturing worker is sorely outdated, the reality is that manufacturing is alive, well, and increasingly technologically sophisticated in the US. It’s also facing a massive and increasing skills gap problem driven by demographics, tech training, and PR. Let’s jump in and take a look at some of the hard realities that manufacturing faces in the near future.
Baby Boomers have long held a dominant role in manufacturing. Yet, even delayed retirement can’t avert the reality that the vast majority of Boomers will be retired in the next 10-15 years. Those are bodies that manufacturing concerns will struggle to replace. Current projections suggest over 2 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2028. Sadly, those Boomers aren’t just taking their bodies out of manufacturing, but all of their accumulated knowledge and skills.
The Tech Gap
Manufacturing hasn’t let the digital revolution pass it by. As it has always done, manufacturing has embraced this new technology or is looking for ways to do it. Everything from machine learning and AI to robotics and coding is at play in manufacturing. Yet, the industry doesn’t have clear pipelines for securing talent, especially in tech areas like programming. This problem is complicated by all the other options that programmers have available to them, often with staggering salaries. This brings up the next problem covered below.
The Public Perception Problem
Younger workers, especially, have a skewed view of manufacturing informed partly by historical fact and partly by misinformation. They view manufacturing as endless drudgery on an assembly line. While assembly lines will remain in manufacturing, the number of human bodies on those assembly lines and the jobs they do are radically different than the assembly lines of old. Yet, the manufacturing industry has communicated this information poorly. To attract the digitally-savvy, tech-oriented workers they need, manufacturers must revamp their image in the public eye. It’s the only way the industry can ever hope to develop a talent pool it can draw from in the future.
The Skills Gap Isn’t Going Away On Its Own
While some people will still gravitate toward manufacturing, these won’t necessarily be the technologically proficient candidates that manufacturers need. That problem won’t solve itself. As long as manufacturing retains its public image as an industry that locks people onto an assembly line to perform boring, repetitive tasks, it’ll never create a pipeline of workers with the tech skills the industry does and will so desperately need. The industry as a whole must make a concerted effort to revamp its public image as the tech-oriented, creativity-driven field it has become in the modern era.
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