MANUThe highest salary and benefits of any industry can be found in manufacturing. The most innovative processes and equipment can be found in manufacturing. The most available jobs of any industry can be found in manufacturing. What’s not found in the manufacturing industry today – enough workers.

It’s a problem that has plagued industry leaders and manufacturers for more than a decade. What has seemingly been a consistent career path for centuries is now lagging. It is estimated that 80{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2} of manufacturers can’t find the workers they need.

This downward trend has sent the industry’s talent pipeline, its pool of candidates who are qualified to assume open positions, into dangerous territory.

Mind the Gap

All one needs to do is take a look at another large industry, say health care for instance, to get a feel for a healthy workforce pipeline. In health care, workers are spread throughout the pipeline at even percentage intervals across nearly every age range.

The manufacturing pipeline is an entirely different story. Nearly 60{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2} of the local manufacturing workforce is expected to retire in the next 10 years. Even more damaging, just 4 percent of the current manufacturing workforce is under the age of 25. These alarming statistics are being measured at similar levels in manufacturing hubs across the nation.

All of this is happening within an especially important industry. Manufacturing is at the core of what it takes to keep this country, and the world, running. It’s an industry that supports an estimated 12 million jobs in the United States and about one in six private-sector jobs. In Florida, there are more than 12,000 manufacturing companies that account for nearly $40 billion output of goods and services.

An entire industry has been forced to confront the realities of how things got to this point as the gap widens between the current and needed workforce. More importantly, the industry must now work to fill nearly 10 million open positions.

More Openings Than Qualified People

If you take a journey back to economics class, you’ll recall the theory of supply and demand. It seems extremely basic, but it tells the story of today’s manufacturing industry challenges. Take the ‘supply’ side. These are the people going into the workforce and those available to work. Now look at the ‘demand’ side of the equation. These are the manufacturers ready to hire that have available jobs.

If demand is greater than supply, you have a problem. This is the case in manufacturing today and it certainly didn’t get to this point overnight.

The ‘supply’ didn’t simply choose another career path one day. Instead, there have been a number of issues in play that have caused people to go elsewhere.

Perception is Everything

MANU1The manufacturing industry has a deep rooted history in America. It’s an industry that is associated with national pride. It became a symbol of inspiration during the industrial revolution as men and women went to work in factories across the country. The factories that kicked off this phase in history were dark, sometimes dirty, and viewed as a place for monotonous assembly line work. These images are woven into the minds of an entire generation.

Today’s manufacturing facility couldn’t be farther from their early counterparts which is a fact that has yet to fully permeate into the mainstream.

A new wave of manufacturers operate within a new level of interconnected and intelligent systems that incorporate the latest advances in sensors, robotics, big data, controllers and machine learning.

Keeping pace with the evolution of these smart machines requires high-tech workers who can manage complex and shorter product cycles. Understanding algorithms aids in computer to 3D modeling. Math skills translate into spatial reasoning. Workers must understand higher levels of S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and have analytical skills in order to influence design changes as well as improve production efficiency.   The level of complexity happening on the manufacturing floor means a more sophisticated workforce is required to make things run smoothly. 

Simply put, it’s no longer your grandfather’s manufacturing plant.

Getting an Education on Manufacturing

It has been proven that the earlier students learn about today’s manufacturing industry, the better. Students are already forming perceptions about potential careers in middle and high school. A recent survey of teenagers found 52 percent had no interest in a manufacturing career. Of the 52 percent, 61 percent perceived it as a ‘dirty and dangerous’ career.

The industry was viewed so poorly by these young people, that when asked to rank preferred career choices, manufacturing came in fifth out of seven professions.

Parents also play a key role. A survey found that only 3 out of every 10 parents would encourage manufacturing careers to their children. A traditional four-year college path and obtaining a white-collar job continue to be the main options for a majority of post-high school decisions.

Building a Game Plan

A number of groups, both nationally and locally, have stepped into action to combat these long running challenges.

On a national platform, the Manufacturing Institute holds Manufacturing Day each year with a mission to increase positive perception of the industry. Last year, more than 1,600 manufacturing events were held in conjunction with the annual awareness campaign, including hands-on training and site tours for high school students, career changers, and veterans.

The event will be held again this year in October and local 3D printer Rapid Prototyping Services will be opening its doors as part of this unique opportunity to engage talent.

Regionally, manufacturing is critical to the economy and a large driver of economic health. Every dollar in final sales of manufactured products supports $1.33 in output from other sectors – this is the largest multiplier of any sector. Brevard County happens to be Florida’s manufacturing mecca boasting the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the entire state.

“If there’s one community that understands the magnitude of what’s at stake from a lack of alignment between the needs of manufacturers and a shortage of workers with the right credentials, it’s the Space Coast,” said Leo Reddy, chair and chief executive officer of the nationwide Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC).

Changing the perception of manufacturing and filling the workforce pipeline has become a priority for the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. No stranger to gaps, the organization has spearheaded a comprehensive effort to close the skills gap, match opportunities to job seekers, and provide solutions to local manufacturers.

One solution is the promotion of the certified training programs available in the industry. The first is the Certified Production Technician (CPT) training program; which has become an important tool for local companies. Opting for certified skills training can lead to a career within an industry providing attainable steps along a clear path for growth.

“The CPT certification is how I know in an instant if someone has the foundational skills to be successful in manufacturing at Harris,” said Mike Ennis, manufacturing engineer for Harris Corporation.

The Next Manufacturing Workforce

Brevard County’s workforce is as diversified as the industries that dot our landscape. While we are diversified, we aren’t immune. The current challenges facing the manufacturing industry have been formed at a national level and affect every manufacturing cluster across the country.

It might seem lofty to quickly integrate increased S.T.E.M. teaching into schools, or turn around decades of negative perceptions about conditions within a factory, but that is essentially what must be done and it can be done by drawing on cutting edge technology and abundant opportunities.

It’s an effort that only grows in intensity as time goes on. The next generation of manufacturing workers are already out there; they just need to be found and educated. To stop the gap and save an industry, manufacturers will need to start telling a new story.

The story of the next generation of manufacturing.