Inspiring a Generation of Manufacturing Professionals: 3 Ways to Build the Workforce

Inspiring a Generation of Manufacturing Professionals: 3 Ways to Build the Workforce

Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA; Carolyn Lee, Executive Director, The Manufacturing Institute

Both of us frequently hear the myths about U.S. manufacturing.


We hear, for example, that manufacturing is not cool or leading edge. Next, we hear that robots are coming for everyone’s job.


Yet nothing could be further from the truth.


American manufacturers are experiencing a Fourth Industrial Revolution that’s bringing machines online as workers integrate software, explore the power of data and create new applications using artificial intelligence. And as new automation systems reach the factory floor, workers aren’t being replaced; jobs are changing. There’s a growing need for workers who can combine hands-on and digital skills.


The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte’s most recent study on the skills gap in manufacturing revealed that, between 2018 and 2028, the United States will have 4.6 million manufacturing jobs to fill – yet 2.4 million might go unfilled if we fail to connect the people with the necessary skills to do those jobs. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, one out of three U.S. manufacturers are turning down jobs and work because they don't have the people to fill those roles.


For the current generation of CEOs, managers and business owners, building a workforce is now a core business challenge, and we see three key measures that can close the gap.


1. Spotlight all – not just some – of the pathways to success.

Companies will benefit by creating and promoting pathways into manufacturing careers. The old timeline of going to college, getting a four-year degree and entering the workforce is no longer the single path to success. People can now start apprenticeships in high school or earn a two-year technical degree while working. After that, they have the choice to continue working or continue their education. Whether someone is coming from the military, high school or reinventing themselves at any point in their career, all of these paths are open.


2. Recognize that investing in new technology will help inspire a new generation of workers.

The level of technology in place in manufacturing today will enable workers to have much more dynamic and creative work. People will play crucial roles in intelligent machine interactions that have never been possible before. Technology will elevate the role of human knowledge and ingenuity. A 30-year manufacturing employee recently shared with one of us that he had learned more in the last five years than in the previous 25. That’s what the software-and-automation combination is doing and what makes the future of manufacturing so exciting.


3. Focus on diversity to attract new people to the factory floor.

If we can close the gender gap in manufacturing by 10 percent, we can close the overall skills gap – addressing the worker shortage – by 50 percent. This should drive us to attract people who have not historically been active in manufacturing or who lacked pathways into the sector.


If we can successfully address misperceptions and attract new people at all stages of their education, careers and lives, the benefits will extend beyond solving a skills gap. U.S. manufacturing will gain a competitive edge while more people gain access to purpose-driven, good-paying jobs.


So as manufacturers look to fill roughly 500,000 open jobs across America, let’s make it clear that our industry is central to the digital economy and that people are central to our success.


Anyone interested in a career in manufacturing should know that it’s less about what you already know and much more about your willingness to learn new things. If you have curiosity and initiative, the doors to the factory floor should swing wide open.


Editor’s NoteThe Manufacturing Institute promotes new approaches to growing manufacturing talent across the U.S. Siemens USA is the world’s largest industrial software provider and has more than 60 manufacturing, digital and R&D sites across the United States.