3. Tackle the skills gap with automation
Analysts suggest that millions of unfilled manufacturing jobs could cost the U.S. economy as much as $1 trillion over the next several years. Being proactive is one of the best ways to mitigate the potential damage. Many manufacturers find skills gap solutions through automation, but that doesn’t mean they always replace humans’ jobs with robots. Collaborative robots, more commonly known as cobots, often supplement people’s duties.
In one example, a Chinese automotive manufacturer uses cobots to tighten screws and other fasteners on engine assemblies. An employee can stand close to a cobot in motion and handle other tasks, such as applying lubrication.
Cobots can also handle some specific manufacturing methods, like welding. Lorch is a German-based company that offers a welding cobot. It has been particularly advantageous in Australia, which is struggling with a skills gap affecting welders.
David Wilton, Lorch’s managing director for the South Pacific region, said, “Small-to medium-sized manufacturing businesses can’t compete in this environment, with many struggling to find and retain key welding personnel. Furthermore, there are constant cost pressures and rapidly advancing technologies.”
When manufacturers can’t solve hiring shortages through traditional means, they often explore how automation might help. “We can’t fill the gap (shortage of welders) fast enough, but there are many forms of welding automation, and it really depends on the application to determine what is the best solution,” Wilton explained.
4. Launch mentoring programs
One of the pressing reasons manufacturers need to close the skills gap is that too many people are currently in the workforce close to retirement. It takes years for a newer worker to acquire many of those retiring employees' capabilities and wisdom. At the same, people from younger generations typically have different perspectives and ideas than older ones. This means that mentoring does not only occur when senior workforce members teach what they know to newer employees.
Instead, manufacturers should consider reverse-mentoring relationships to help with skills gap issues. In those cases, junior-level employees engage in knowledge sharing with industry veterans. Such arrangements can get those more-experienced workers acquainted with new technologies or processes that could help production plants now and in the future.
Jack Thomas is a technical specialist at PrintCity, an additive and digital manufacturing center in Manchester, England. He participates in the reverse-mentorship program there. When discussing his experience, he said, “I have quite a unique specialism — a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters in Science degree.”
He continued, “From a practical point of view, I have brought my digital, fashion and textiles expertise to PrintCity and am often able to support my senior-level colleagues with my wide range of knowledge. They definitely listen to me and respect that I do bring in a different set of skills.”
Traditional mentorship programs can act as skills gap solutions, too. When a younger person gets insights from someone who has been in the workforce and industry for much longer, they see what the future could hold. That should give them the motivation to stick with the manufacturing sector and continually develop their skills.
5. Offer scholarship programs
Scholarship programs can also become skills gap solutions, especially if they make people feel empowered to get the training they need. Some manufacturers also give recipients other perks to foster career growth.
Pratt & Whitney is a jet-engine manufacturer that recently gave $1.25 million toward a scholarship program for minority engineering students at the University of Connecticut. In addition to getting $10,000 in aid for four years, successful applicants will get the chance to take a sophomore-year internship at the manufacturing plant. They’ll also get the opportunity to work on a design project with the company as seniors.
CNC Machines, which sells used CNC equipment to help manufacturers upgrade, also has an annual scholarship. Its program targets students and U.S. veterans. Applicants must submit essays to explain their interest in having manufacturing careers.
Financial obstacles often prevent people from working toward the careers they want, especially if those jobs require specialized skills. Many manufacturing roles require that background, but company representatives can lend a hand through programs like these.
Multiple solutions will help close the skills gap
These are some of the specific ways manufacturers have explored skills gap solutions to keep their workforce competitive. However, it’s important to realize that company representatives will likely need to consider several strategies for attracting and retaining manufacturing workers. A thorough approach is more likely to capture the attention of various groups and get long-term results.
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