Challenges Of Finding Skilled Employees

Manufacturing companies often lament their inability to attract workers. Even in these times, unemployment rates overall are at 5.3 percent as of July 2015. Workers complain there are no jobs, and employers claim there are no workers available. The reality is, they are both right. Multiple factors are coalescing to make it difficult – but not impossible – for manufacturers to find skilled workers.

An Aging Workforce

With 84 million people in the U.S. currently between ages 45 and 64 according to U.S. Census figures, about 4 million workers will reach their traditional retirement age every year for the next 20 years. Many of these people will leave the workforce, taking their hard won expertise and skills with them. In fact, the unemployment rate for workers over 55 is currently 3.7 percent and for workers between 20 and 25 it is 10.1 percent. Workers over 45 make up 51 percent of the workforce, and employers are hanging on to those skilled workers as long as they can.

Many of those workers would like to continue working, but not at the same pace they did at earlier career stages. Companies should institute flexible schedules to make staying on the job more attractive to aging workers. In addition, developing mentorship or on-the-job training programs would help with knowledge transfer to younger workers.


As disillusionment with the once hot offshoring movement set in, companies began to pull work back on shore. However, after years of dismal job prospects, many workers made career changes and have left manufacturing. During the manufacturing low days, many critical skills have been lost and it will take years to re-develop them. In the interim, employers can expedite the process with on-the-job training programs and community outreach programs. Leveraging skills from long-term employees to help train new employees will also help the comeback.

Educational Inadequacies

The U.S. educational system has fallen short in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) training, and as a result, many students graduate from high school or college without the skills they need to fill modern jobs. Even in manufacturing, jobs today require more technology and match skills than ever before to deal with computer-driven equipment such as CNC machines, 3D printers and nanotechnology. Most manufacturers also place a heavy emphasis on quality management, including Six Sigma and SPC techniques, which may require frequent mathematical calculations.

Working with local school systems, community colleges and educational institutions to develop core curricula and remedial programs can help give younger workers the skills they need to be successful in manufacturing today.

Technology Advances

Much of manufacturing is not the demanding, manual labor of the past. Now, manufacturing in many industries relies on technology and the ability to follow processes more than it does on the ability to lift large components into place. While there will always be a degree of physical labor in some industries, more and more work is being accomplished using robots, self-driving trams, and material carts and computers.

Manufacturers who are fortunate enough to be in this position have an even harder time attracting skilled workers, many of whom may look down on manufacturing, believing it to be a manual role unworthy of their skills. Those who don’t have the same skills are not qualified.

The solution, again, is to work with community leaders to change the perception of manufacturing, and to demonstrate what a rewarding and lucrative career it can be.

Global Competition

Currently, most manufacturing companies work on a global basis, and in many parts of the world the competition for skilled workers is fierce indeed. It’s not uncommon in some places for skilled workers to receive job offers from competitors every week. To retain skilled workers, companies need to ensure that pay and benefits are on par with nearby companies, but they also need to ensure that their corporate culture is caring and respectful. People will leave for the money, but they stay for the culture.

The Gig Workforce

More and more people are opting for self-employment and part-time work. They may have been forced into working part time during the last recession, but many found they enjoyed the freedom and have continued to work as contractors – even as the economy has improved.

Consider making some full-time manufacturing slots open to contractors, consultants, temporary or part-time workers. Two or more part-time workers may be no more expensive than one full-time equivalent, and you will have a flexible, adaptable workforce.

Hiring skilled workers isn’t easy, and the shortage is not a problem that will be solved over night. However, using some creativity and ingenuity will help bridge the gap. 

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