A lack of highly skilled employees in your operation doesn’t have to mean a death sentence. While the skills gap is very real and the need to combat it is even more pressing, there are feasible ways to work around it and even combat it. Start by investing in local and national Career Technical Education (CTE) programs and utilizing easy-to-use and simple-to-train lean manufacturing equipment.
Reshoring Is Up
In June, the US Department of Commerce’s Investment Advisory Council (IAC) reported that, in 2020, reshoring numbers hit new record highs in the US, reaching 109,000 jobs. This number is expected to grow by 25 percent in 2021. According to the Reshoring Initiative, reshoring labor will be a key element of economic recovery from the pandemic.
The government has made reshoring a priority in more recent years, and many industries have seen changes accordingly. Yet something is amiss among all of this bliss. While US manufacturing is on the cusp of a renaissance, most industries, including metalworking and woodworking, are suffering from an acute shortage of skilled manpower. This is called the Skilled Labor Challenge or the skills gap.
And it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better.
Headed on a Collision Course
According to recent information from the Manufacturing Institute, the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs is estimated to be around 350,000. That number is expected to reach 2 million by 2025. The two major reasons for the increasing skilled worker shortage are baby boomer retirements and economic expansion. Adding to this widening skills gap is the “negative image of the manufacturing industry among younger generations, a lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills among workers, and a gradual decline of technical education programs in public high schools.”
A 2015 study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte notes the following sad irony: While Americans view manufacturing as one of the most important domestic industries for maintaining a strong national economy, only 37 percent would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.
The general public’s low esteem for the trades is widely evident in high schools across the country, where woodworking and metalworking programs have been eliminated by the droves. And once welding equipment or a band saw is removed from a school, it’s very unlikely that it will ever return.
The tremendous opportunity to reshore good-paying manufacturing jobs and the dearth of Americans willing to work in factories are headed on a collision course. Domestic manufacturers looking to capitalize on the economic boom will find it even more challenging to find qualified help.
So, what is manufacturing to do, and why should the nation focus on growing and protecting manufacturing jobs?
Because a thriving manufacturing sector builds thriving communities. Each manufacturing job creates 3 to 5 local jobs. This manufacturing phenomenon is called Manufacturing’s Multiplier Effect.
“Because manufacturing has so many substantial links with so many other sectors throughout the economy, its output stimulates more economic activity across society than any other sector. And a new study suggests the multiplier effect of manufacturing may be much higher than previously calculated … Earlier projections based on Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) annual input-output tables have calculated that a dollar’s worth of final demand for manufacturers generates $1.48 in other services and production … A new analysis by Inforum, an economic consulting service working out of the University of Maryland, suggests the manufacturing multiplier is much higher — $1.92, almost doubling the base value of the manufacturing output itself.” – Industry Week
Developing Tomorrow’s Workforce Starts Today
Many manufacturers have taken matters into their own hands, counteracting the skills gap by investing in automation equipment that is intuitive and simple to use for even the most unskilled operator. This automated machinery can be used to minimize set-up time, eliminate manufacturing bottlenecks due to accuracy errors, and increase quality control, all while boosting productivity. Programming, operating, and maintaining today’s technology doesn’t require a new breed of skilled workers—anyone who can operate a calculator is suitable.
In addition, forward-thinking representatives of the metalworking and woodworking industries have been replenishing the labor pool by making concerted efforts to develop a skilled workforce. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills Inc (NIMS) and the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America (WCA) are two such programs. These initiatives target the recruitment of youths into the trades by promoting the rewarding careers availed in modern-day manufacturing. The initiatives also target the retention of workers through the development of skill standards that employers can use to assess new hires and use to train and promote current workers. The metal- and wood-skill standards create pathways by which workers can grow their incomes by sharpening their skills and becoming more valuable to their employers.
NIMS and WCA
The NIMS was formed in 1994 by the metalworking trade associations to establish industry skill standards, certify individual skills against the standards, and accredit training programs meeting NIMS-quality requirements. NIMS has developed skills standards for everything from metal forming and machining to industrial maintenance. NIMS has three levels of standards, ranging from entry to master, and they are accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Since its founding in 2007, the WCA has developed more than 240 skill standards for woodworking machines and operations recognized throughout the United States and Canada. More than 160 high schools and postsecondary schools throughout the US and Canada are currently subscribers of the WCA’s skill standards. Four states—California, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin—recognize the WCA credential in their state-funded woodworking education programs. In addition, the WCA has issued nearly 1,400 credential passports to students and woodworking professionals.
Organizations like NIMS and WCA have done a lot of heavy lifting to benefit the metalworking and woodworking trades. They have established a foundation for tackling the critical skills gap facing their respective industries. Any metal or wood business executive struggling to find qualified help would do themselves a serious favor by learning more about these groups and seeing how they might get involved to help secure America’s manufacturing future.
In addition, supporting trade schools and career technical education (CTE) centers that train the next generation of skilled workers is vital to battling the shortage of skilled workers. Programs like the Peyton Woods Manufacturing and Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab (MiLL) in Colorado are working to change the perception of the trades. Students, war vets, and those already in the manufacturing industry can take courses to freshen up their manufacturing skills using top-of-the-line equipment donated by those in the manufacturing industry.