Six Strategies for Closing the Manufacturing Skills Gap and the Steps Employers Can Take Now

Written by Stephen Schaaf, Brian Bateh on November 10, 2021

Warren Averett manufacturing skills gap

Manufacturing employers are facing a serious problem—the growing manufacturing skills gap in the industry.

What is the Manufacturing Skills Gap?

The manufacturing skills gap refers to the mismatch between the skills possessed by job seekers and the skills needed by employers to fill current and future roles.

There are currently around 900,000 open manufacturing jobs in the U.S., and this is projected to grow to 2.1 million by 2030 if the current trend continues.

Warren Averett manufacturing skills gap

Why is There a Manufacturing Skills Gap?

A perfect storm of factors has contributed to the manufacturing skills gap we’re seeing today. The biggest factors are:

  • An aging workforce
  • New skillsets needed to keep up with technology changes
  • Misaligned education/training programs
  • Poor industry perception and lack of career interest in younger generations

In the past, manufacturing employers have been somewhat passive actors in workforce development—they relied on others (like educational institutions) to provide labor.

But it’s clear that this model isn’t working anymore; companies can’t afford to depend on others to provide the skilled workers they need, or they set themselves at risk for:

  • Institutional knowledge loss
  • Decreased revenue
  • Stunted growth
  • Dissatisfied employees

What Can Manufacturing Employers Do About It?

The manufacturing skills gap is a massive, complex problem that may seem insurmountable—especially for small and mid-size companies. But there are practical steps you can take to be proactive when it comes to workforce development and building a talent pipeline.

In this article, we’ll discuss six strategies for closing the manufacturing skills gap and building a talent pipeline for your company.

  1. Identifying your unique skills gap
  2. Capturing institutional knowledge before it’s too late
  3. Empowering your current workforce
  4. Creating pathways into your organization with paid training
  5. Strengthening relationships with training partners
  6. Spreading awareness to attract future talent

Warren Averett manufacturing skills gap 

1. Identifying Your Unique Manufacturing Skills Gap

The manufacturing skills gap is different for every organization. Before you can solve it, you need to understand it.

We recommend conducting a skills gap analysis, which will help you identify the gap between the current skills possessed by your employees and the skills needed to reach your future ideal state.

Understanding your unique manufacturing skills gap will allow you to accurately communicate the skills you’re looking for so you can create a plan for finding and developing those skills in current and future employees and will allow you to prioritize the most critical skills needed to meet business goals.

It’s especially important because the skills needed are rapidly evolving as automation and other technological advances become commonplace. It’s also a good time to identify employees who would be good candidates for upskilling.

2. Capturing Institutional Knowledge Before It’s Too Late

As we mentioned above, one of the leading causes of the manufacturing skills gap is the aging workforce. Baby boomers make up nearly a quarter of the manufacturing workforce, and all baby boomers will reach retirement age by 2030. It’s critical to capture the wealth of institutional knowledge before these experienced workers leave your organization.

There are several ways to achieve this, such as:

  • Digital tools like process documentation software, videos, etc.
  • Creating transitional roles for older workers such as mentoring/coaching, whereby they pass on their knowledge to younger workers

Older workers have vast amounts of knowledge and young workers tend to be tech savvy, so there’s a great opportunity to play to these strengths to capture institutional knowledge and close the manufacturing skills gap.

3. Empowering Your Current Workforce

As technological integration deepens, new roles with advanced skill sets are needed to keep up with these changes. A great way to fill those needs is by upskilling, reskilling and cross training your current workforce.

While this does involve significant (and sometimes expensive) investment, there are many benefits:

  • Demonstrates commitment to your employees, which is good for retention
  • Current employees have already proven their ability to work successfully at your organization
  • By filling hard-to-fill roles internally, you can backfill newly open roles from a wider pool of candidates as the requirements are more flexible.

You can identify good candidates during your skills gap analysis or create broader “learn and earn” programs that use raises and promotions to incentivize employees to learn additional skills or earn certificates.

Warren Averett manufacturing skills gap

4. Creating Pathways into Your Organization with Paid Training

For many job seekers, the financial strain of traditional training programs (in terms of tuition costs and time spent without an income) creates a barrier.

A different approach is teaching manufacturing employees the skills they need through paid training. Employer-sponsored training used to be commonplace but has declined in popularity as students have migrated towards higher education. It may be time to bring the old methods back.

By removing the burden of training from job seekers, you have increased flexibility and are able to screen potential employees for competency and potential rather than skill set or years of experience. Employer-sponsored training can take many forms:

  • Co-ops
  • Internships
  • Apprenticeships
  • Tuition assistance

If you need help creating internal training programs, there are many resources (and even funding) available. You can also consider working with other local manufacturers to create joint programs.

5. Strengthening Relationships with Educational Partners

Several of the strategies mentioned above to close the manufacturing skills gap depend on the availability of specialized training (traditionally provided by trade/vocational schools and colleges and universities), yet less than one third of mid-size companies partner with education and training organizations to train or upskill employees.

The absence of communication means training providers are sometimes out of sync when it comes to the skills that manufacturing employers need. This can lead to a mismatch whereby students complete a training course without developing the actual skills they need to be hired.

Building a relationship with local talent providers is the best way to fix this problem:

  • Work with local high schools to create co-op programs
  • Clearly communicate competencies, credentialing requirements and work-related experience needed so students can choose the right program
  • Collaborate with training providers to design specific degree or certificate programs
  • Work with training providers to design classes and provide training material and hands-on instruction
  • Develop relationships with teachers and professors to refer promising candidates

Warren Averett manufacturing skills gap

6. Spreading Awareness to Attract Future Talent

There has been a cultural shift over the last few decades from viewing trades as a respectable, desirable career choice to viewing college/university as the only path to success.

Many people have an outdated view of what working a manufacturing job is like—that it’s dirty, dangerous, repetitive and low-paid. We know that’s not the case; manufacturing jobs are high-tech and most modern factories are clean and safe.

But the changes to the manufacturing industry have not yet translated to increased career interest.

Employers need to lead public awareness campaigns communicating the benefits of modern manufacturing careers, such as: competitive pay, great benefits, interesting work and exceptional room for growth. Early exposure is especially important, so reaching young people before they’ve determined their career interests is best. Here are some ways your company can spread awareness:

  • Visit schools and expos
  • Open your factory for a showcase
  • Host a Manufacturing Day event
  • Create co-op programs and internships for high school students

Learn More about Closing the Manufacturing Skills Gap for Your Organization

Considering the existing manufacturing skills gap and evolving skills needs, employers can’t afford to simply accept whatever talent the market provides. They must understand the importance of playing a leadership role in developing future talent.

Investing in workforce development is not only in manufacturing employers’ best interest, but also has the capacity to drastically improve our community by providing thousands of unemployed and underemployed people with access to high-tech, high-paying jobs.

If you need help getting started, we’re here to help! Warren Averett’s Workforce Development professionals offer services that help where it matters when it comes to recruiting manufacturing employees.

Reach out to your Warren Averett advisor directly, or ask a member of our Workforce Development team to reach out to you and get the conversation started.


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