By Dennis Slater, AEM President

Skills GapManufacturing is alive and flourishing in the U.S. today, and there are millions of stable and lasting jobs available for the taking.

Now the question is, who will fill them?

A shortage of skilled labor has been an unfortunate byproduct of manufacturing’s return to prominence in the years since the Great Recession. A lack of qualified talent threatens to hamper future growth of both the industry itself and the economy overall.

The skilled worker shortage is really a problem of perception. A job in manufacturing is too often seen as a dangerous, dirty and repetitive one. However, the reality is quite different. Manufacturing facilities have evolved into modern environments where innovative products are being designed and built using cutting-edge technology. Many of these products then go on to positively impact people’s lives, both across the country and around the world.

We, as an industry, need to make a concerted effort to reach out to the workforce of tomorrow and help young people understand the value of taking up a career in manufacturing. There are a number of professions worthy of aspiring to, and manufacturing is one of them. Convincing young people to think of the manufacturing industry as a critical step toward building a career, as opposed to merely a way to obtain a job, will go a long way toward addressing the skilled worker shortage.

Simply connecting with people is not enough, however. We need to assist them in their efforts to develop the skills necessary to thrive in a career in manufacturing and provide the means for them to actually make things. The machinery found in your average high school or tech school is not what is being employed in the vast majority of factories today. So, as a result, many manufacturers are providing schools with the technology being used in their facilities. Not only do their efforts serve as an admirable example of community outreach, but also as a savvy means of employee recruitment.

Finding the most effective ways to train adults is also critical to successfully addressing the skilled worker shortage. While many states offer training programs – and manufacturers are utilizing them to find qualified employees – we have member companies with 100 openings per organization today. One hundred openings? When so many people across the country are looking for work? It just doesn’t add up, and we need to do our part to address what has become a problem of great significance. These unfilled positions hurt the manufacturers’ productivity and competitiveness, while missing the opportunity for people seeking employment and a satisfying career.

U.S. manufacturing is thriving again because companies were able to overcome higher costs of production by becoming more efficient through their investments in cutting-edge technology. They continue to grow and, in order to sustain the progress they have made, they need employees.  

By reaching out to young people and helping them understand the value of manufacturing, as well as ensuring they are afforded the opportunities to develop and cultivate the skills required to be qualified for jobs in our industry, we can help close the skills gap and help guarantee manufacturing’s bright future for generations to come.