U.S. manufacturers continue to fix the talent gap

October 10, 2012

Manufacturing companies that base success on following a achievable business strategy know that figures never lie and that numbers can be either friends or enemies. So when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report revealed that there were 271,000 factory-job vacancies in July, the prudent manufacturer may believe that the talent gap in the industry is not as pronounced as in technology or healthcare.

The government figures aren't wrong, but there is a feeling in the industry that there may be many more opportunities for the right person to make manufacturing their career choice, especially when recent studies show that skilled welders can make more money than a bank worker. According to Bloomberg, this is one reason why the transition from white to blue collar is becoming an attractive option.

Figures released by Deloitte in September 2011 showed that there were 600,000 vacant positions in U.S. manufacturing, a number that the Society of Manufacturing Engineers used as the basis for its prediction that there would be 3 million unfilled jobs by 2015. If this forecast is correct, it could make the talent gap more pronounced than any other U.S industry.

"Recent history also creates more of a struggle for manufacturers than other industries to attract skilled workers, said Gary Green, president of Forsyth Technical Community College in North Carolina. "Health-care employment grew unabated amid the deepest U.S. slump in six decades, and students see computers and IT as industries of the future. The harder sell is in manufacturing, for a period of time there’s been this sense that American manufacturing has disappeared."

Companies such as Caterpillar are looking to change the perception of manufacturing. An essential part of manufacturing strategy is to make sure that the workforce is able to deliver the products required, with workers traditionally learning the job on the factory floor. These skills are now being transferred to the classroom, with students being taught by experienced workers. 

Manufacturing companies are partnering with community colleges, creating in-house courses in welding or computerized machine operation that will help to alleviate some of the shortage in the industry. According to USA Today, the manufacturing industry has seen 474,000 jobs filled since 2010, but industry analysts believe that there is still some way to go.

"It’s the single biggest issue that we have to solve if the U.S. is going to be a thriving economic force going forward," said Mark Tomlinson, chief executive officer of Society of Manufacturing Engineers.