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Manufacturing Industry Needs to Fill 600,000 Skilled Positions

Up to 600,000 skilled positions are now left unfilled in the manufacturing industry, reveals the surprising new survey "Boiling Point? The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing." It polled 1,123 executives at manufacturing firms from around the nation and found that five percent of their manufacturing jobs are vacant due to a lack of qualified candidates.

The survey is a project of consulting firm Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, the non-profit, non-partisan affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Craig Giffi of Deloitte LLP said the data shows 67 percent of manufacturers have a "moderate to severe shortage of available, qualified workers. Moreover, 56 percent anticipate the shortage to increase in the next three to five years."

These unfilled jobs are mainly in the skilled production category; e.g., positions such as machinists, operators, craft workers, distributors and technicians, explained Emily DeRocco, president of The Manufacturing Institute. "Unfortunately, these jobs require the most training and are traditionally among the hardest manufacturing jobs to find existing talent to fill."

The survey's authors point out that the skills gap problem comes into sharper focus when considering the changing nature of manufacturing work during the past five years. "Many manufacturers have redesigned and streamlined production lines while increasingly automating processes," they said. "While some remaining job roles will require less technically skilled workers, ironically, these trends and innovations actually demand more skilled workers, such as maintenance engineers. This changing nature of work is consistent across industries and companies of different size, and can make it difficult for workers to keep up with employment demands."

When respondents were asked to look ahead three to five years, they indicated that access to a highly skilled, flexible workforce is the single most important factor in their effectiveness --above factors such as new product innovation and increased market share by a margin of 20 percentage points.

"Many manufacturers are using the same approaches to talent development as they were a decade ago," said Tom Morrison of Deloitte Consulting LLP. "New performance tools and formal processes like industry certifications should be playing a larger role in any manufacturer's talent management plan."

DeRocco agreed, saying companies need to partner with educational institutions to make developing workforce skills a top strategic priority, and the education system must do a better job aligning education and training to the needs of employers and job-seekers. To support this effort, she said The Manufacturing Institute is deploying the Manufacturing Skills Certification System (endorsed by NAM) which is designed to "build educational pathways to in-demand manufacturing jobs."

"Manufacturers obviously want to fill these roles by tapping the currently available workforce," she continued. "However, they report that the No. 1 skills deficiency among their current employees is in the area of problem solving, making it difficult for current employees to adapt to changing needs. Adding to the problem, respondents report that the education system is not producing workers with the basic skills they need."

The results of this survey may appear dire, added Morrison, "but in reality each of these challenges is surmountable. The United States has among the largest, strongest manufacturing industries in the world and has demonstrated its ability to innovate and adapt time and time again."

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