Concerning projections about the state of the manufacturing workforce have been circulating for several years. According to a widely cited study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, two million jobs in the manufacturing sector will go unfilled by 2025. So what are manufacturers to do about this impending workforce shortage, which many are already feeling?
The fact is, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Every case is different, depending almost entirely on what a manufacturing business does and where it is located—both geographically and in the supply chain—which means that solutions must be developed at the local level.
Fortunately, there are some well-established principles to follow, as well as a number of successful programs to model. Here are some proven approaches that are making a difference to U.S. manufacturers when it comes to workforce development.
Key Areas of Successful Workforce Development Programs
The workforce shortage is due to several different factors, including the retirement of the Baby Boomers, a comparative lack of interest in manufacturing careers among younger generations, and the changing nature of manufacturing jobs.
Workforce development initiatives have to contend with all of these issues, developing multifaceted, long-term strategies. This includes thinking about workforce development in terms of training, retention, and culture, and identifying partners that can help address these issues.
Workers need the right skills to perform their jobs. As the nature of manufacturing work changes thanks to the introduction of new materials, processes, products, and technologies, employees have to be educated to work with evolving conditions. Also, manufacturers should not discount leadership training. A high-performing environment requires high-functioning leaders and studies show that 75% of people who leave a company do so because of their manager or boss.
It’s not enough to hire and train employees; they also need to be incentivized to stay. This isn’t necessarily a matter of perks and benefits; it can be a function of communicating how new conditions will impact what workers are doing—as well as asking them what sort of potential they see in the changing manufacturing environment.
Employees stick with a company because they appreciate the culture—an especially important factor for millennial workers. If you can create a workplace that workers can engage with, you’ll have a better chance of hiring and retaining new ones. Efforts to create a compelling company culture can include everything from correcting misperceptions young people have about manufacturing to developing new career paths within your organization that respond to the millennial desire for lateral—rather than vertical—movement.
Workforce Development Programs That Are Moving the Needle
For most small- and medium-sized manufacturers, addressing their workforce needs is a big issue that they can’t solve on their own. A number of local workforce development programs from organizations in the MEP National Network recognize and respond to this dilemma, providing manufacturers in their areas with solutions and serving as models for the development of similar programs across the country.
Catalyst Connection in Southwestern Pennsylvania has taken a county-by-county approach to connecting manufacturers with available employees via its Workforce Investment Boards and CareerLink programs. And if qualified potential employees don’t exist in the area, they will provide funding to companies to help cover the expense of training both new and incumbent employees.
Using tools like its Workforce Status Review, Tennessee MEP (TMEP) works with Tennessee manufacturers to identify internal workforce development strategies and connections to the larger workforce development system in order to develop long-term workforce strategies that will ensure that employers are able to attract and retain the talent they’ll need to be competitive. One of TMEP’s unique programs brings together workforce development, education, and industry experts in an integrated Automotive Supply Chain Workforce Readiness Program, which prepares automotive workers for advancement into managerial and leadership roles.
Working with the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland, Maryland MEP has created end-to-end career pathways for manufacturing and machinist positions, including everything from entry-level “soft skills” training to incumbent worker training. A key component of this holistic program is Maryland MEP’s reimagined apprenticeship program, which connects private employers with online training programs and alternative instruction providers that offer competency-based apprenticeship approaches.
Addressing Workforce Development Needs
Workforce development for manufacturers is a multifaceted issue involving generational forces, an evolving workplace, highly technical training, and geographic specificity. In many cases, it’s more than most small- and medium-sized manufacturers can handle on their own. And that’s why experts within the MEP National Network are working to develop solutions that will allow manufacturers to address this growing need in a strategic fashion.
To discover what sorts of programs are available in your area—and to get a sense of how well your organization is positioned to attract existing and emerging talent—find your local MEP Center and connect with a workforce development expert in your area.
Written by Becky Kemp, Program Manager, Workforce Development at Maryland MEP and Tim Waldo, Workforce Development Specialist at Tennessee MEP.
This article was prepared by the MEP National Network, which is solely responsible for its content.