The second week in May is Michigan Manufacturing Week. Manufacturing in the state has been in recovery for a number of years now, adding necessary jobs for Michigan residents and contributing to an overall more robust economy.
While this is great news there is significant concern about what some researchers are calling the skills gap. Today’s manufacturing climate is very different from the one our parents and grandparents worked in. A high percentage of unskilled line work exited the country in the past twenty years and will not return as long as the global economy allows for simultaneous cheaper wages and affordable transportation options for finished goods.
Researchers at Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute announced in February that there will be nearly 3.5 million manufacturing job openings – skilled and highly necessary positions – over the next decade, and, if nothing changes, 2 million of those will not be filled because suitable candidates will not be found to fill them. The types of positions needed will not only be in engineering. The country needs technicians who can fix machines when they break down, computer programmers, scientists, and skilled production workers. Essentially, students who major in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will not have a problem finding work over the next decade. What’s more, companies that desperately need these workers will have to be generous with both salaries and benefits.
In many ways, a healthy skilled manufacturing sector creates a virtuous cycle. Skilled jobs are much more likely to state stateside, and the additional research and development they generate only result in more advances, more jobs, and more revenue. Unfortunately, of the manufacturing executives surveyed, 8 out of 10 of them said that the expected skilled labor shortage would affect the ability of their companies to meet current demand, improve productivity, and implement better technology.
Some states are taking measures to address this deficit, and Michigan is one of them. The Skilled Trades Training Fund (STTF) began last year as a pilot program to help Michigan companies train their workers and stem the flow of skilled young people leaving the state for better opportunities. While companies may have initially focused on the training of production workers, they are beginning to consider training for a broader base of employees. Companies can apply for retraining grants of up to $1500 per employee under the current program.
While policy making and grant program are important, it’s vital for manufacturers to begin thinking out of the box as well, not simply to avoid problems down the line, but because the stakes and the potential benefits from being proactive now in terms of seeking, hiring, and training skilled workers are so great.
AEC Systems is proud to be a part of the Michigan small business community at this interesting time in its history.