Labor Shortage

Overcoming Labor Shortages with Smart Partnering

April 26, 2019

The short supply of skilled workers in manufacturing is well documented. Deloitte’s 2018 Skills Gap in Manufacturing reports there are about 2.1 billion jobs that manufacturers need to fill. The United States alone could stand to lose $454 billion in growth by the year 2028 as a result of this gap.

There are several underlying reasons for this shortage, according to the Deloitte report. Due to the advancement of automation, tasks formerly performed by human workers are done “by machine.” However, it creates a deficit of skilled workers who can operate such automation. Add in the steady retirement of baby boomers, the popularity of collegiate and professional pursuits among millennials and the iGen, and you have the labor shortage that we’re currently experiencing – and projected to continue experiencing – today.

Labor Shortage

Solving this issue isn’t easy. Collaboration is key between Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and their supplier-partners, along with other entities, such as professional associations, educational institutions, and other organizations to help develop the curricula, opportunities and interest among youths to better enable employers to recruit qualified personnel to perform the needed functions within their operations.

As an OEM, what is a reasonable framework to build an increased pipeline of skilled potential, and ensure that your supply chain partners can do the same? The following tenets can assist in building a culture that consistently attracts, recruits, and promotes workers on the shop floor to management to the board room and beyond.

  • Think apprenticeships. Traditionally, apprenticeships were mostly associated with a blue-collar trade. Today, apprenticeships are for all types of positions. Employees work part-time for a sponsoring company while enrolled in an educational institution. The institution might be a four-year, degree-granting college or university, a specialized trade or vocational school, or a two-year technical school. Or an apprenticeship may be conducted organically within the company. Miller Fabrication Solution’s award-winning Weld Program is an example of how workforce development for specialized and in-demand skills can be integrated into the existing workforce. In this program, an employee can enroll to be trained in these needed skills while they’re working in another role. Specifically, the Weld Program provides non-welder employees with a four-week training in Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding that culminates with a test project. Successful Program graduates then advance to a welding position (and pay scale) at Miller. Expect to see a similar program format rolled out to other departments within the company in the coming months.
  • Think technology. How can you or your supplier-partners enhance the talent of new and existing workers? Technology, like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tools, can impact the training process – whether these tools reduce the time involved in learning a new skill or increase the safety of the training environment or produce better training results – or all of the above.
Robotics and today's youth
Through sponsorships and school partnerships, OEMs can assist in sparking student interest in robotics and other important technologies at a young age.
  • Think educational partners. Educators and administrators across elementary, middle and high schools, vocational schools, technical training programs and colleges and universities present major partnership opportunities for OEMs. There’s the ability to work hand-in-hand to create a specialized curriculum or workforce development program. There’s also the ability to work with school staff to identify and develop the preferred qualities, skills and other attributes among their student base to steer qualified candidates to your open positions. AT&T offices in Atlanta, as an example, worked with Georgia Tech and invested in a program that focused on data analytics at the master’s degree level.
  • Think digitization. Your automation equipment provider may serve as a resource to not only increase efficiency among your current processes and workforce surrounding their machinery, but also to pinpoint greater opportunities to digitize and further refocus workers to help operations and tasks be more lean.

The manufacturing labor shortage and skills gap isn’t going to be resolved within the next year, that we know. However, through apprenticeships and new training methods, technology, educational partnerships and digitization efforts, the tides of change can start to produce returns for OEMs. Getting there involves smart collaborations between many parties: supplier-partners, educational institutions, government, industry associations, vendors and others. When collaboration works, great things happen – like a sustainable workforce that is sophisticated, trained, and technologically able to meet the challenges of tomorrow.