You’ve probably read the numerous headlines about a manufacturing industry skills gap problem. If you are in manufacturing business you don’t need headlines to tell you about the problems we face trying to replace skill and experience in our plants. Whether you want to believe it or not, it’s true. In a 2015 study by Deloitte they identified a growing skills gap on almost two million jobs before the year 2025. Think about that for a second. Two million. The number is huge. What that means is if you are looking for ten skilled tradesman or fifteen new assembly workers with high skills, your competitors will be also. It’s a game of grabbing and keeping the right employees to ensure long-term business success.
The Impact on Company Performance
At SEA-LECT Plastics our company performance is built upon the hard work of our employees. There’s no denying our economic driver comes from within. If you have the greatest product concept but lack the in-house skills and experience to produce, it is just an idea. Four key areas of importance are:
Technology / computer skills – Most of the products made today have incorporated technology and computers. CNC machines to develop tools. People using computers to design the tools and then programming the machines for a cut path. It all works together in unison. The process from beginning to end involves technology. Whether it was designed a decade ago or it has yet to be developed, technology on any level will have a place in the process. It will always be new to someone, and we will always need a teacher to pass on their knowledge of that technology and develop the people that will continue to grow the business.
Basic technical training – A lot of time people hear “technical training” but take it for granted that everyone in this day and age is technically savvy. At the basic level, it is really about understanding how things work and operate. Manufacturing, whether that means creating components, or assembling them into a larger product, needs to stay focused on how the individual pieces operate and what they become when combined. What is the intent of the product? How do the tools work to create the product? Keeping the small things in focus will allow the big picture to stay aligned.
Problem-solving skills – Problem-solving ability can be a hard one to measure and to teach. One way to gauge the level is to develop a skill exercise that a potential employee, or even a seasoned employee, can walk through and find a solution. The end answer will need to be only part of the process. How someone gets the answer is a key indicator of whether they can problem solve. Secondly, working problems as an individual are only a piece of the bigger picture. Rarely do employees work alone. We also need to instill the team problem-solving exercises that involve multiple people working toward a common solution.
Math – Math on a general level is just the starting point. Most of the time we rarely need an employee that can do differential equations and something at a high level beyond a high school or early college level. How we use that math knowledge is going to be the challenge. In manufacturing, we common worry about General Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T). It uses basic math to calculate manufacturing tolerances of common parts and sizes to ensure products can be manufactured and assembled easily. Beyond GD&T, basic stack up analysis is also another key use of basic math that works well in manufacturing. How do parts fit together piece by piece and what happens at the edge of every tolerance level? Does the product develop a problem, and how can it be overcome?
What Can We Do For the Future?
There are things that employers can to offer more opportunity in manufacturing in the coming years:
Apprenticeship Programs – We should be developing our employee’s skills through apprenticeship training. Training classes, problem-solving exercises, and general development opportunities need to be offered to grow employees into subject matter experts and leaders. This will lead to a long-term career with a good salary, job advancement opportunities and the chance to work with your hands using cutting-edge technology in the third largest manufacturing industry in the United States.
Involvement With Local Organizations – We should be looking in our local communities for opportunities to work together and develop our employees. We at SEA-LECT Plastics have a great relationship with the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) in development of apprenticeship programs that can train new employees and offer them an opportunity to learn while they earn skills and make a living toward a better future. We connect with local K12 Schools and district through their Career and Technical Education – CTE advisory committees and local Skill Centers. Our middle and High schools are the largest source for future skilled workers. We started a pipeline and are keeping refilling it. Community and Technical colleges might be a good resource in some areas, however, they are usually expensive and are not as effective and do not carry as much weight as registered apprenticeships.
External training and certifications – While most companies want to develop their own employees, it is beneficial for employees to take external classes for training and certifications. It may be on an individual basis, or a group training exercises, but there are classes and seminars that can offer insight into coming trends and what is needed for the future. We use Paulson Training for very specific training in Injection Molding skills and classes offered by our Molding machine supplier Milacron.
Veteran hiring programs – Every year veterans leave our armed forces to join the public and private workforce. They come with team building experience, training in programs you may have little experience with, and offer opportunities for a unique experience some will never have. We need to give them an opportunity to impress us with their experience and listen to what they can offer us.
The skills gap is real, but it’s not a lost cause. There’s no need to throw our hands in the air and just accept that we won’t find or can’t train new skilled employees. We can take advantage of local resources to find and train our current and new employees. We can develop new programs to continue training and even benchmark competitors for strengths and weaknesses. Don’t give up on the future. Together we can change it for the greater good of the manufacturing industry.