Manufacturing Skills Gap Requires Life-long Learning

American manufacturers and workers are facing a challenge created by a manufacturing skills gap. A growing manufacturing skills gap highlights how manufacturing has changed over the decades. The image of workers in a noisy dirty factory, wrestling with heavy equipment, might be a good visual for movies, but it doesn’t accurately reflect today’s work. In today’s manufacturing jobs workers are apt to work with, alongside or control some element of automation. Changes like this have helped to create a manufacturing skills gap.

In the past 40 years the number of manufacturing jobs has decreased significantly. In 1979 there were almost 20 million manufacturing jobs in the US making up about 22 percent of the labor market. In 2019 there are 12.6 million jobs making up 9 percent of employment.

While the total number of jobs has decreased, the number of job openings has increased.  A Deloitte 2018 study of manufacturing skills gap says that by 2028 the skills gap could leave an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled. Most of these job openings are due to a manufacturing skills gap and the need for workers that have higher education. These unfilled positions will a wide reaching effect on the US economy.  By 2028 manufacturing will add about $454 billion value to the economy, about 17 percent of the forecasted GDP of $2.67 trillion. This could be at risk if manufactures cannot find enough qualified workers. Every direct job creates 2.5 additional jobs in the US economy. If the manufacturing skills gap makes it impossible for manufacturers to fill jobs, production will be affected. By 2028 manufacturing will add about $454 billion value to the economy, about 17 percent of the forecasted GDP of $2.67 trillion. This could be at risk if manufacturers cannot find enough qualified workers.

The most effective way to protect manufacturing industries and maintain a strong US economy is to actively work to close the manufacturing skills gap. Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report Upskilling and Downsizing in American Manufacturing states that “Modern manufacturing is not just about making things on the factory floor. It requires workers with a diverse set of skills to perform functions such as research and development (R&D), product and production design, marketing and sales, and customer support.”  There may be fewer manufacturing jobs in the future, but those that remain will require workers to have higher education. Closing the manufacturing skills gap means that American workers need to acquire skills that are in demand. The Skills Gap and Future of Work report from the Manufacturing Institute says that most manufacturers believe that the top cause of the manufacturing skills gap is due to changing skill sets needed because of new advanced technology and automation.

The top skills sets that manufacturing executives need are technology and computer skills, digital skills, programming skills for robots, working with tools and technology and critical thinking skills. Employees will have to work with automation and problem solve. “In manufacturing, this generally translates to solving problems in production, such as having the ability to identify quality failures with parts coming off an automated production line and, more importantly, to take actions that remediate the problem in real time.”

Workers who pursue higher education to learn advanced skills will be in position to fill the manufacturing skills gap expected by 2028. Employers who provide tuition assistance to their workers will be enhancing their workforce, developing people who have the digital skills to work with ever-changing technology. Manufacturers and their employees will need to invest in continual upskilling so they can adopt new workplace innovation and increase production. Deloitte’s manufacturing skills gap study gives a look into the future of manufacturing. “As digital transformation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution redefine manufacturing jobs, leaders and workers alike need to embrace a new work environment. Here, advanced technology and digital skills must blend with uniquely human skills to yield the highest level of productivity. Understanding how work might change can help the industry as a whole prepare for a future that promises to be transformative.”