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The Evolution of the Skilled Manufacturing Labor Pool

July 21, 2011
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In an interview with Quality Magazine, president of manufacturing consulting company Advanced Technology Services Jeff Owens speaks about the culprit behind-and remedies to--U.S. manufacturing’s shrinking skilled labor pool.

Highly-skilled baby boomers are retiring and manufacturers are facing millions of dollars in losses because the technical skills most in demand are nowhere to be found, says a survey from manufacturing consulting firm Advanced Technology Services (Peoria, IL), which works with clients such as Catepillar and Motorola.

Twenty percent of surveyed executives reported 15 plus floor vacancies, with 41% expecting the same issue five years from now.

In a recent interview with Quality Magazine, President Jeff Owens discussed the implications of these numbers.

Quality Magazine: In what specific ways will these developments impact the manufacturing industry?

Jeff Owens: The retiring baby boomers will create a skills gap that manufacturing will struggle to deal with. The shift of commodity manufacturing off shore has sharpened the United States’ manufacturing's focus on high-precision complex products that require high levels of technical skills to manufacture. The lack of these elite manufacturing technicians is already being felt.



QM: What are companies currently doing to cope with this issue?

JO: Although manufacturers say that training is the key to producing a pipeline of skilled workers to handle today's complex manufacturing, few are investing appropriately to meet the demand. In fact, according to the Nielsen Survey, half of the manufacturers surveyed are investing 1 to 5% in training programs.



QM: What do you think is the major culprit behind these technical skills not evolving with newer generations? What can be done to remedy this?

JO: The problem is complex and has its roots back to the image of manufacturing that was popularized and condemned by songs like Simon and Garfunkel's "Richard Cory". In fact, manufacturing's image has been so tarnished that many of today¹s youth will take a minimum wage job just to wear a suit. The problem is exacerbated by high school counselors that steer students to a college education instead of a more fulfilling job in the trades. But, there are very few vocational programs to be found. And therein lies a big problem. For manufacturing to continue to be vital to U.S. economy, high schools need to do more to prepare students for non-college careers. In fact, the Nielsen survey indicated that 98% of those surveyed felt that it is skill trade educational programs are important. It's also why around half of those same manufacturers feel that among government investments, investing in skilled trades program would provide the best return on investment while only one in five felt investing in national health care program would be a sound option. So with all this said, we need to change the image of manufacturing.

ATS is doing this by taking innovated programs like our TinkerTronics program to the middle schools. The program teaches young kinesthetic students the excitement and challenges of working in a manufacturing environment. The program teaches teamwork and real-world mathematical skills that connects with these students. In addition to exposing students to programs like this, education on what real manufacturing environments are like in the 21st century would be helpful. It's no longer a dark environment with intense manual labor. In fact, many of today¹s manufacturing facilities are world-class technological marvels that require computer savvy operators and elite maintenance technicians to keep them humming along. And the wages paid these individuals dwarf the wages paid to an electronics store employee. It¹s time to reposition manufacturing, rewrite the songs and repaint the image and show that today's manufacturing is a professional career, not just a summer job.



For more information, visit www.advancedtech.com

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skilled labor - the lack of

Chris Sigler
August 3, 2011
NEOMEC - thru OSU in Oklahoma has been trying to work on the exact problems dicussed here with the same conclusions. They have worked with vo-techs and colleges to develop classes to meet specfic needs and have tried other sloutions as well.

Evolution of the Skilled Manufacturing Labor Pool

WISPR
August 3, 2011
The biggest problem is that top management treats these skills and the people that hold the skills as worthless. I have been in management in the precision mfg field for 35 yrs and I see this more and more esp since the 1990s. The devaluation of the hourly worker.

Lack of skilled labor

Wingnut
August 3, 2011
Manufacturers talk out both sides of their mouth. On the one hand, they decry the disappearance of skilled labor, and on the other, they farm out the manufacturing jobs to the cheapest bidder, or send the jobs overseas. Why wouldn't the populace be wary of gambling on the future of manufacturing here in the U.S. Manufacturing facilities conduct surveys to determine why employees aren't motivated to go the extra mile for the company - well, duh; companies are not interested in cultivating loyal dedicated employees anymore; they are only interested in satisfying their customers within the most economical means possible - and have become convinced that investing in a loyal, dedidated and competent workforce is not the solution.

Lack of skilled labor

Dartpro
August 3, 2011
Lets hear it for Wingnut - I agree completely - Manufacturers talk out both sides of their mouth. On the one hand, they decry the disappearance of skilled labor, and on the other, they farm out the manufacturing jobs to the cheapest bidder, or send the jobs overseas. Why wouldn't the populace be wary of gambling on the future of manufacturing here in the U.S. Manufacturing facilities conduct surveys to determine why employees aren't motivated to go the extra mile for the company - well, duh; companies are not interested in cultivating loyal dedicated employees anymore; they are only interested in satisfying their customers within the most economical means possible - and have become convinced that investing in a loyal, dedidated and competent workforce is not the solution.

ATS

Scott
August 3, 2011
ATS is an outsource company for Maintenance Services paying far less than the parent companies. Trade positions are not as attractive as they once were and the parent companies do not take any ownership of the development of the trades. They see companies like ATS as another needed cost savings to compete with the demands of manufacturing such as OSHA, EPA, NFPA, ANSI big government and codes that must be maintained to stay in business. Overseas competition does not have to comply to.

Lack of skilled labor

tech1
August 3, 2011
What was said above.....Management of our company assumes "if you can build it here, they can build it there" with a much cheaper labor pool. What they don't recognized is the years and years of cumulative experience actually translate to much better throughput. Our product has a large amount of manual labor with the end result defined by learned techniques. Overseas manufacturing is only 20% as efficient of our domestic operators. So much for the savings.........

Lack of Skilled Workers

Devalued Employee
August 3, 2011
I like that phrase - devaluation of the hourly worker. Our grandparents and parents worked for companies that valued skills and gave those motivated enough to try, the opportunity to get apprenticeships, journeyman cards, and degrees. Today we are expected to pay for our own education, bring our own experience, take the disrespect, bring our own tools, pay high healthcare deductables, work more hours, vacation less, all for 30-50% less than our parents were paid.

Come on !?

Du'du
August 3, 2011
The journey for manufacturing is a never end battlefield, high cost here, low cost there, bad quality here, worst quality there,, larger distances to replenish, higher cost to logistics; Now skilled labor constraints... what the lesson is ?? Always money pocket empty ? how much is empty, trade it !!

Lack of skilled workers

S.C.
August 4, 2011
I am one of those skilled workers. I started out 20 years ago running a plating line and have worked my way up to the tech level. In years past we were rewarded for our hard work and the company looked at us as an asset. Today we are treated like a replaceable tool just like the broom in the corner. If we are worked like dogs and we break there is someone standing in line that will now jump in our shoes and take the abuse, at least for a while. We have not seen a raise in 3-5 years, lost many benefits, and have seen our cost of living continue to rise. There has been no investment made in training in years in our plant and no promises made of a better future. No wonder we are loosing 2-3% of our work force weekly to other forms of income!

skilled workforce

gwm
August 17, 2011
Excellent feedback. I've noticed in training (my particular field) that companies main concern is to get technicians certified quickly, mainly just to be able to pass the required tests, not the quality of the training.Collectively all workers affected are a huge voice, theres an answer among us and we should work at figuring out what it is that we can do to bring quality back to the workplace.

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