How can U.S. Manufacturers Access the Skills and Talent they Need?
By Thomas Morrison
As most U.S. manufacturers look to regain momentum in the wake of the global economic crisis, they face some well-documented challenges – starting with talent. For many, this isn’t news. For years, manufacturers have reported a significant gap between the talent they need to keep growing their business, and what they can actually find. So Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Manufacturing Institute recently commissioned a survey to dig deeper into this stubborn trend, asking U.S. manufacturing leaders questions such as:
- What impact is the skills gap having on company performance?
- How is it evolving in the face of continued economic and competitive
- Which manufacturing jobs are being affected the most?
- What does the future of talent look like? What trends are manufacturers preparing for today – and how?
A look at our results turns up some surprising insights into the talent gap and how surveyed manufacturers are responding. Here are some highlights in addition to those included in the accompanying graphic that should be of interest to anyone whose business is affected by the fortunes of U.S. manufacturers.
Among the hardest jobs to fill are those that have the biggest impact on performance
Shortages in skilled production jobs such as machinists, operators, craft workers, distributors, technicians, and more are taking their toll on manufacturers’ ability to expand operations, drive innovation, and improve productivity. Seventy-four percent of respondents indicated that workforce shortages or skills deficiencies in skilled production roles are having a significant impact on their ability to expand operations or improve productivity. Unfortunately, these jobs require the most training and are traditionally among the hardest jobs to find existing talent to fill.
High unemployment isn’t making things any easier
There’s no way around it: respondents report, on median, that 5 percent of their jobs remain unfilled simply because they can’t find people with the right skills. Translated to raw numbers, this means that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled – a remarkable fact when the country is facing an unemployment rate that hovers around 9 percent. Respondents report that the national education curriculum is not producing workers with the basic skills they need.
Manufacturing work is changing so quickly that it’s harder for talent to keep up
Over the past five years, most manufacturers have redesigned and streamlined their production lines while implementing more process automation. In short, as the industry has changed, the nature of work that it requires is changing as well. And it’s happening fast, which leaves manufacturers expecting more from their employees. Unfortunately, respondents report that the number one skills deficiency among their current employees is in the area of problem-solving skills, making it difficult for current employees to adapt to changing needs.
What’s next for U.S. manufacturers?
The skills gap is an issue that has reached the boiling point for manufacturers – and the same old approaches aren’t enough to close it. Manufacturers should pursue more creative approaches to recruitment and talent management to make sure they have the skilled personnel they need to win in the future. The same goes for developing existing lea – new performance tools and formal processes can have a big role to play in any talent management plan.
The industry will need help from private-public collaborators, and educational institutions as well. Students need a clear path for attaining the required skills and training to prepare for a career in manufacturing. That’s easier said than done in an industry environment that is evolving faster than at any point since its beginning.
While daunting, these challenges are surmountable. The U.S. has one of the largest, strongest manufacturing industries in the world, and has demonstrated an ability to innovate and adapt time after time. Now it’s time to flex those muscles.
 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. “Unwavering Commitment: The Public’s View of the Manufacturing Industry Today,” (September 2011)
A Response from an Industry Leader
How can U.S. manufacturers access the skills and talent they need?
Since our original research findings were published last fall, the topic of U.S. manufacturing talent has received more attention than at any time in recent memory, partly due to public concerns about China’s continuing rise in the global economy. In short, people are worried that manufacturing jobs are leaving the U.S. and may never return. In addition, manufacturers routinely complain that the workforce simply doesn’t bring the skills they need. In an election year, we surely haven’t heard the last on this topic – and as a result, we’re facing a rare opportunity to spark a national discussion about this important issue. America is still a vibrant and innovative country, and its manufacturers still represent an extremely valuable knowledge base. The U.S. workforce has long been a leader in its ability to innovate and address complex scientific, technological and social challenges; however its leadership in these areas is in jeopardy. We believe that critical to improving U.S. manufacturing competitiveness is getting Americans more interested in manufacturing through educational programs that portray the industry as a valuable career choice with sustainable employment opportunities, as well as arming students with the technical and problem-solving skills available through flexible education pathways that result in advanced degrees or certifications.
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