Over the past several years, manufacturers both nationally and regionally have consistently cited the shortage of skilled labor as one of the most critical issues affecting their businesses and the industry at large. There are a number of reasons that have likely contributed to this situation.

Manufacturing technology has advanced exponentially in recent years, from traditional (manual) machinery to CNC machinery, the advent of 3-D printing, and shop floor interconnectivity via the “Internet of Things.” During this evolution (or revolution), many lesser-skilled positions were offshored to places with cheaper labor costs, while the workforce that remained was retrained to operate the newer and more sophisticated equipment.

This workforce – significantly comprised of Baby Boomers – is now retiring annually in large numbers. Meanwhile, the next generation of skilled laborers had been steered away from this so-called “dirty, dark, and dangerous” career by their Baby Boomer parents, to the point where technology schools that would have been equipped to provide skilled laborers could no longer do so.

Further compounding the situation, many of the manufacturing jobs that are currently being reshored from overseas require the same skilled labor that is already in short supply.

So in summary, there are jobs available – both old and new – but there isn’t enough talent to fill them.

Manufacturers have responded to this dilemma by partnering with their local community colleges and trade organizations. Together, they have been able to access funding to develop and implement training and apprenticeship programs tailored to manufacturers’ needs. One such program that is about to be launched is the National Tooling and Machining Association’s (NTMA) Tri-State Apprenticeship Program, sponsored by the NTMA’s Philadelphia Delaware Valley Chapter.

Manufacturers and others close to the industry can also help the cause by promoting and/or participating in the fifth annual Manufacturing Day, scheduled for October 7, 2016. Manufacturing Day, which occurs on the first Friday of every October, provides an opportunity for manufacturers, as well as educational and other institutions, to host events such as plant tours, open houses, and workshops. The day is designed to increase public awareness of modern manufacturing in the hopes of improving its image and attracting the next generation of manufacturers.

An abundant and highly skilled workforce coupled with continued advancements in manufacturing technologies will help keep U.S. manufacturing productivity among the best in the world for years to come.

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