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Skilled labor is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Whether it’s due to more conservative hiring practices, changing demographics or negative perceptions of “manufacturing” jobs, the demand for high-skill labor is growing faster than supply. Businesses across the globe are finding it hard to hire and retain enough workers to support their growth despite a rising global population; and industry experts are predicting the situation will worsen over the next twenty years.The implications for manufacturing organizations are clear – hire, train and invest in a skilled workforce now to insulate against what many are calling the perfect storm of a future skilled labor shortage.

A Changing Labor Landscape for Manufacturing

Manufacturing is growing globally, accounting for approximately 16 percent of global GDP and 14 percent of employment (McKinsey Global Institute, The Future of Manufacturing).   Consequently, many country leaders have hailed this sector as a vital component to economic recovery, offering government grants and other incentives to encourage industry investment. Yet manufacturers across the global are finding it increasingly difficult to staff adequately due to a lack of interest by younger workers, an aging demographic, and changing skill requirements.

Negative Perception of “Manufacturing”

A recent survey conducted by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA), found that 52% of U.S. teenagers have little or no interest in a manufacturing career. When asked why, the young respondents said they thought manufacturing was a declining field, with unprofessional, dead-end jobs, dirty factories and frequent layoffs.

An Aging Workforce

Older employees are leaving the workforce at a faster rate than qualified workers are being hired to replace them. Consider these statistics from the US Census Bureau:

  • 7918 people turn 60 years of age every day; 330 an hour
  • The number of US people age 55 and older will increase 73% by 2020
  • The number of younger workers will grow only 5%

And, this is not just a United States trend:

·      Over the next 15 years, 80% of workforce growth in developed economies in North America, Europe and Asia will occur among people 50 years or older.

·       If current low birthrates and longevity trends continue through 2050, the number of older persons in the world will exceed the number of children.

However, it is not only the lack of manpower causing problems when older workers leave a company. The seasoned workforce also takes with them a wealth of in-the-trenches experience and company DNA.

Quantity vs. Quality

A shortage of workers may seem counter intuitive when one considers the United Nations predicts at least 8 billion people on Earth by 2050. Yet, it isn’t the quantity of people that poses a problem. Rather, it is the smaller number of skilled workers that is the issue. According to the U.S.  Department of Education, “60 percent of the new jobs that will emerge in the 21st century will require skills possessed by only 20 percent of the current workforce.” Manufacturing positions are migrating from unskilled, manual labor, to highly specialized professional careers.

Opportunities for Investment

Manufacturing companies are in a race. They are racing to capture knowledge held by older workers, racing to retain an existing workforce, and racing to attract younger talent from a limited pool of resources. Missteps in any one of these areas could mean the difference between success and failure. Fortunately, advancements in operational software and systems are giving companies new ways to address each of these issues. For example, 3D visualization technology provides a natural, intuitive technology interface, which makes it easier for workers to store and share information. Intelligent machines provide the ability to analyze “big data” in real-time and at the point of work to enable better decision making in the face of rapidly changing market demands.  Also, workers can now monitor and take action in the field by using mobile devices to access mission critical information such as product traceability and recalls, inventory movements and operational status.

Government subsidies should help stimulate interest in manufacturing opportunities. But it is up to the organizations themselves to attract, train and support the workforce with cutting edge systems. Investing in these types of solutions today will help weather the labor storm of tomorrow. 

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