The U.S. economy gained 164,000 jobs in July 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With such strong numbers it would be logical to assume that the manufacturing industry also experienced an increase in jobs, but that would be incorrect. The manufacturing sector represented 11.6 percent of U.S. GDP in 2017, down from 12.3 percent in 2011 and 28.1 percent in 1953. Manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 at 19.4 million. These numbers beg the question: why the decline?

The manufacturing industry requires skilled workers to fill technical jobs, such as ma-chine/equipment operators and automation supervisors–herein lies the rub. Despite an abundance of positions, significant compensation and the importance placed on skilled employees, manufacturing companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find a trained, qualified and skilled workforce to fill open positions. It’s reported that over the next decade, almost two million manufacturing jobs are predicted to go unfilled due to the skills gap crisis.

Mike Rowe, star of Dirty Jobs and founder mikeroweWORKS, has been a staunch advocate for skills and tradesmen training. The mikeroweWorks Foundation is a nonprofit that links students interested in learning a skilled trade with scholarships and job opportunities. Rowe has noted that as a nation and as parents, we have worked hard to provide the next generation the best possible education and career opportunities. As a result, we have pushed for college education and STEM-based learning. While this thinking is well intended, this push has come with costs: fewer trades training in schools like woodworking and shop, increased college debt, and now an increasing skills gap in the U.S. workforce with open jobs and no one to fill them.

In an article written for Money, Rowe was quoted saying, “We’ve marginalized an entire category of work, and we just don’t appreciate the opportunities that are out there. Parents want something better for their kids than they had, but we don’t really know what ‘better’ means. Nobody has ever suffered from learning how to weld, learning how to run electric, how to lay pipe. But crushing debt and a lack of skill could derail your career before it gets started.” This concentration towards higher education, a general misperception of manufacturing jobs, the retirement of baby boomers and shifting skill sets due to the introduction of advanced technologies are all fueling this industry challenge.

FABTECH 2019 is approaching this looming issue head-on with a focus on providing thought leadership around workforce development. Leadership Exchange Discussions will bring critical thinking to the evolving 21st-century workforce and the intricacies of managing a multi-generational staff and ever-increasing workforce gaps. Education sessions including The Future of Talent: Attracting and Retaining the Top Talent for the 21st Century, Engaging Manufacturing’s Next Generation Through Full Contact Innovation, and Manage, Mentor and Develop Your New Workforce and Staff for the Future, will give shop owners and manufacturing plants the insights they need to face workforce challenges and provide creative solutions that can be immediately implemented.

Networking and cultivating a thriving employment funnel is equally as important to transforming workforce issues. FABTECH provides an ideal forum for connecting with like-minded professionals, fostering relationships, and growing your network. Industry Night, the Women of FABTECH Breakfast and several organic opportunities throughout the event will give attendees a platform to build these connections.

To more actively identify viable industry talent, be on hand during FABTECH’s Professional Welders Competition organized by the American Welding Society. This engaging event puts industry talent and your next shop leaders on full display when participants go head-to-head to display their welding talents. In this exciting competition, speed and accuracy count, and weldments will be evaluated. Meet and network with these industry superstars and discuss opportunities within your organization.

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