A properly skilled manufacturing workforce is the top U.S. priority for achieving global cost competitiveness and the growth needed for a robust economy. Our growing skills gap threatens to erode U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and thus our economy. A talent pool with a sufficient supply of properly skilled candidates is imperative in meeting U.S. manufacturers’ needs for capacity, productivity and innovation.
Skilled workforce development is one competitiveness factor over which we can have complete control. It is essential that the U.S. has sufficient worker quality and quantity to provide the needed capacity increase for expansion, reshoring and foreign direct investment (FDI). Global manufacturing executives ranked the search for skilled talent as the number-one driver of manufacturing competitiveness. The 2021 Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute skills-gap study reported that finding the right talent is now 36% harder for U.S. manufacturers than it was in 2018, even though the unemployment rate has nearly doubled since.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) is transforming work at an unparalleled pace due to rapidly changing technologies like artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and cognitive automation, advanced analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT). New-collar workers must develop technical and soft skills through nontraditional educational paths, including community colleges, vocational schools, software boot camps, technical certification programs, high-school technical education and on-the-job apprenticeships and internships as opposed to a four-year university degree. Manufacturers must in-corporate lifelong learning into their business plans.
Becoming globally competitive depends on generating skilled toolmakers, precision machinists, welders, engineers, etc. as good and plentiful as in Germany and Switzerland. Wages in those countries are as high or higher than here, and their manufacturing is competitive.
Manufacturing executives expect the following five skills to increase significantly within the next three years:
- Digital skills
- Programming skills for robots/automation
- Working with tools and technology
- Critical-thinking skills
As manufacturers increase competitiveness with automation and other Industry 4.0 technologies, the workforce will need comprehensive training and corresponding skills to interact and grow. “Soft skills” such as critical thinking and analysis, creativity and initiative, and problem solving will be equally important.
Closing the Gap
We must create a strong K-12 education focused on math and science and offer “vocational” (I prefer “professional”) programs in all high schools. Encourage STEM studies that prepare young people for advanced manufacturing careers that require high-tech skills, such as programming, engineering and digital competencies. Work closely with local manufacturers to develop needed skills through apprenticeships and industry-recognized credentials. Apprenticeships create a high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce and individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction and a portable, nationally recognized credential.
Let’s collaborate to support skilled workforce development to achieve global cost competitiveness and a strong U.S. economy. For help, contact me at 847-867-1144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founder/President, Reshoring Initiative®