Addressing the Manufacturing Worker Shortage

The entire manufacturing industry is in the midst of a worker shortage. Although a recent study predicts that nearly 3.5 million jobs will be created in the sector by 2025, the same study indicates that approximately 2 million of these roles will be left unfilled. While some are quick to attribute the decline in manufacturing jobs to increased automation and technology in the workplace, it seems that the average laborer just isn’t interested in jobs like machining or fastener production.

Problems in Machining and Tooling

The machining or tooling industry is critical to manufacturing. Not only are they responsible for creating the tools and molds needed to produce consumer goods of all types, but they’re also often the first stop in the entire production lifecycle. Introducing bottlenecks or slowdowns at this point in the process often result in a chain reaction that affects every step after that.

Officials in Michigan are especially concerned about the future of the machining industry. The city of Grand Rapids currently has the largest concentration of job openings in the entire nation. Detroit boasts the country’s second-largest concentration.

The Center for Automotive Research, or CAR, recently held a conference in Michigan to talk about this topic. According to their sources, the total hours spent in tool and die development will increase by 60 percent by 2019 for Detroit’s automotive manufacturers. Couple this with the fact that employment within the tool and die sector recently fell by 4 percent from 2013 to 2014, and it’s easy to see how dire the situation has become.

Numerous factors are driving these trends. According to CAR, more than 75 percent of all employees in the tool and die trade are over the age of 45. When you consider the fact that most of these laborers will be eligible for retirement in a few short years, and that most millennials are forgoing the typical factory job for more entrepreneurial endeavors, it’s difficult to tell where the future tool and die-makers will come from.

If a manufacturer maintains a full-time workforce of 1,000 employees, they’ll need to hire more than 200 new, qualified workers just to replace those who are retiring. Factories that are planning to expand their operations in the future will need to hire even more.

However, the skills gap is making it impossible for some manufacturers to expand at all. According to a recent survey led by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, more than 80 percent of respondents are facing a serious shortage of qualified talent. More than 75 percent indicated the shortage had a direct impact on their ability to grow and expand as originally planned. Another 69 percent of U.S. manufacturers believe this negative trend will continue.

Shortages in the Fastener Industry

The tool and die industry isn’t alone with its problems. The fastener industry is seeing its share of problems as of late. A sector that is valued at $1 billion in North America alone, with most manufacturers located in the U.S. and Canada, it’s yet another problem for the automotive industry to tackle.

Detroit’s automakers typically depend on a just-in-time manufacturing process for greater efficiency. Instead of stocking their own parts, like common nuts and bolts, they order the fasteners as needed. The parts are delivered on-time and immediately put to use. It’s a revolving system that works well for many manufacturers across the globe.

The just-in-time manufacturing strategy is useful in many industries, but there are some shortcomings. Evolving production schedules and raw material shortages are causing many automotive manufacturers to start stocking their own fasteners in limited quantities. While this strategy ensures access to the right parts when needed, it does little to help the struggling tool and die industry.

Another problem comes in the form of employees who just don’t understand the basics of the fastener industry. With millennials eager to use technology as much as possible in their everyday lives, including on the job, many aren’t even considering a future in the sector. If leaders in the fastener industry don’t do something soon, they could experience labor shortages that are similar to machining and tooling.  

Other changes are affecting the industry as well. With many manufacturers making the switch to lighter, stronger materials, including aluminum and stronger types of steel, tool and die-makers are finding it difficult to meet deadlines and maintain acceptable standards of quality.

How to Accommodate the Future of Manufacturing

The entire manufacturing industry needs to make some sweeping changes to accommodate the future workforce of the United States. As technology continues to play an increasing role in our everyday lives and as our current generation of skilled workers are starting to plan their retirements, manufacturers that embrace IT might be able to take the lead in the race to fill their rosters with top talent. 

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