Manufacturing is a crucial component of the U.S. economy, accounting for 12.5 percent of GDP, but 80 percent of manufacturers struggle to find enough workers with the necessary skills. While a sales team is already out giving tailored quotes with a product configurator, managers don’t want their pipeline to slow down because they’re lacking enough tool and die makers behind the scenes. Companies with employee shortages may end up facing longer lag times for product delivery and risk losing business to the competition.
If a company that makes dental prosthetics, for example, lacks enough mold process technicians to fill their orders promptly, that’s an obstacle. To overcome it, the company should take action to close the manufacturing skills gap.
Create Apprenticeships. One tactic to close the manufacturing skills gap is starting apprenticeship programs. Companies with these programs pinpoint workers who have raw talent but lack experience and give them job-specific instruction. On-the-job training has been found to benefit employers with a $1.47 return for every dollar invested.
“Sometimes employers make the mistake of seeking candidates who have got all sorts of general competencies but lack higher levels of aptitude in specific skills,” says David Natalizia of Nuent Consulting. “[They] can help streamline requirements for employees in various functions via technological improvements, and companies can work on developing talent internally to improve processes and requirements.”
Management should begin by determining what federal or state laws apply, including the National Apprenticeship Act of 1937. The Act aims to protect the welfare of apprentices, requiring that programs clearly meet standards including:
- The duration of the apprenticeship
- The type and length of instruction allowed
- What type of supervision will be implemented
- How apprentices are selected and recruited
Managers must ensure that apprentices are paid at least the minimum wage. Some state laws require that a written agreement be created that incorporates the list above plus school requirements and an outline of skills to be learned.
Partner With High Schools and Technical Colleges. Another strategy that certain companies are taking to narrow the manufacturing skills gap is a long-term, educational approach. Their focus is on improved vocational education – both high school and collegiate programs that are a sharp contrast to the shop classes of old. Today’s vocational education has the ability to teach students specific, real-world skills that can benefit companies while furthering their careers.
In California, a partnership between business and education has created new, innovative programs with a manufacturing emphasis. One California school district includes ‘apprenticeship schools‘ where students complete classwork plus specific skills training useful for manufacturing. When a deburrer is needed, there will be a number of qualified applicants and a narrower skills gap in the community.
“Structural changes to the way that students are educated can come about through better PR about what skilled workers are needed in the future,” says Natalizia. “One example of this is the ‘Mike Rowe Works’ organization, but the idea can go much further.”
Companies interested in this type of partnership can begin by contacting the local school district’s curriculum developer or administrators.
CMTC and Axonom Program Coverage
Work With Industry Leaders. Another tactic manufacturers use to counter the skills gap is to create partnerships with industry leaders. This collaboration aims to help manufacturers both develop their workforce and better retain employees. For example, Axonom and CMTC are working with California manufacturers to offer small- and medium-sized factory implementation services that include specialized training for employees.Companies that would like to work with industry leaders can start by looking to regional resources. For example, Partners for a Competitive Workforce serves companies in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana; in Washington State, the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) manages apprenticeship programs in the aerospace industry; and the South Carolina MEP Center is setting up welder training programs in that state.
No one wants to lose a sale to the competition because their factory is backed up with orders and the competition can get their product to customers faster. Some businesses are implementing strategies that help close the manufacturing skills gap, including starting apprenticeships, partnering with educators and working with industry leaders.
Learn how a product configurator can help a sales team provide tailored quoting and ordering functions, while they feel secure and confident about their manufacturing team back at the factory.