Whether chemicals, fabricated metal products, transportation equipment, pharmaceuticals, computer equipment – or myriad other products – much of the manufacturing process is the same.
Manufacturing is typically defined by core drivers: development, production, maintenance (of machinery), transportation of product, management of operations and, ultimately, product sales.
No matter how the production floor or facility may look, no matter how large or small the team of associates, targeted skills are critical to efficient operational success.
And while manufacturing positions might take the form of machine operators, logisticians, CNC technicians, programmers, fitters, engineers and more, the base competencies necessary for these positions are similar in nature and transcend the occupational titles.
Change is a given
If there is anything that is undeniably true in the manufacturing industry, it’s that change is a given.
As the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted in a manufacturing Career Outlook article, the story of manufacturing growth in the United States is one of growth, decline, and recovery.
Industry changes that have occurred in the past 10 to 12 years have been dramatic, with automation leading the pack when it comes to tangible differences between production processes of yesterday and today.
Certainly, equipping today’s manufacturing employees with skills to not only address current demands, but future needs, as well, is a daunting task. This is because no one can accurately predict how manufacturing might look in 10, 15 or 20 years. In other words, the reality is that planning for manufacturing skills of tomorrow is like trying to zero in on a moving target.
As technology continues to evolve at the speed of light, adaptability is gaining prominence as the optimal employee skill in the manufacturing workplace.
Skills gap struggles
As the manufacturing sector continues to make a comeback, industry players face a variety of challenges ranging from outdated perceptions and retiring workers to regulatory compliance and preventative maintenance in the workplace.
But above all, manufacturing companies frequently report that finding good people with a good work ethic is one of the toughest obstacles to overcome.
Industry surveys have suggested that over 80 percent of manufacturing employers are having difficulty finding qualified talent.
Even as the manufacturing industry picks up speed, concern is rampant when it comes to how to cultivate the manufacturing workforce necessary for future operations. Will there be enough employees to meet tomorrow’s needs? What about the oft-discussed manufacturing skills gap?
A variety of studies, including the third Skills Gap study done by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting LLC, contend that the manufacturing skills gap is widening – and that during the 2015-2025 decade, of the three and half million manufacturing jobs that will need to be filled due to baby boomer retirements and industry growth, two million jobs will go unfilled.
That is a sobering statistic indeed, and one that has communities, businesses and educational partners across America scrambling to stay ahead of the curve.
Skills gap solutions
What, then, is the answer to this dilemma? What skills are most important to current and future manufacturing operations?
Industry experts and manufacturing firms seem to agree on one point: some form of training is essential for employees to be successful.
Gone are the days when a high school diploma was adequate qualification for obtaining a job offer in manufacturing.
Today, manufacturing employers want not only soft skills, but at least some specialized technical training and certifications, as well.
Many companies report that rather than trying to find people with precise skills, they would rather recruit employees with a strong fundamental education who are dependable, critical thinkers, flexible, and effective communicators. These soft skills ultimately translate into vital trainability.
Employees who can think on their feet, work with teams and creatively problem-solve add measurable value to a company’s bottom line and positive energy to a company’s culture.
Beyond these basic skills, manufacturing employers seek incoming candidates with some computer and information technology skills, math knowledge, and any number of certifications including OSHA training, Certified Production Technician (CPT), Certified Logistics Technician (CLT), Manufacturing Technician (MT1), Certified Welder certifications, as well as others related to electrical technology, electronics, engineering, and more.
As modern manufacturing moves forward and reshoring spurs production activity, various forms of technical education through high schools, technical colleges, community colleges and universities will be integral to empowering employees to perform at the highest level possible.
This knowledge can then be further enhanced by more specialized training done through employers’ internal training programs.
While yesterday’s image of manufacturing may conjure up thoughts of stereotypical brawn, the industry men and women of today’s more advanced, computer-assisted manufacturing facilities will succeed thanks to technical aptitude, personal flexibility and a willingness to learn.
In the changing landscape of Industry 4.0, competencies and potential are likely to take precedence over specific skills and experience when it comes to finding that “perfect” employee.