industrial manufacturing workforce future trends

The industrial workforce of the future starts here

The manufacturing world has been buzzing for a few years now about the tech-driven, digitally-empowered, sky-is-the-limit transformation called The Fourth Industrial Revolution. There’s only one catch – there aren’t enough revolutionaries to go around. The manufacturing shop floor may be all Internet of Things, but the manufacturing workforce is still just trying to figure out things. It’s up to industry, and its partners, to transform industrial workers into the digitally-savvy, highly-skilled masters of this new age.

Fortunately, three trends bode well for a successful revolution – if all concerned join in now.

One: Colleges and employers collaborate for “hire” education

As college costs have gone dramatically up, and the available pool of skilled manufacturing workers continues to drop, institutions of higher learning, from universities to community colleges, have expanded their vision of education to include what was once solely the realm of industry-specific trade schools. To effectively apply higher levels of digital and tech-centered knowledge to the practical needs of the new manufacturing environment, colleges and employers are engaging as active, equal partners.

Employers work with colleges to help develop curriculum and assessment design, provide on-the-job learning opportunities and internships, and even provide adjunct faculty. Colleges, in turn, help employers identify their core workforce and training needs, creating customized training programs and curricula. They also supply the learning success metrics, and credentials, that ensure worker competency.

In addition, states across the country are allocating millions of dollars to support employer-educator partnerships as a means of ensuring the employability of their residents.

Two: Digital training is “re-skilling” workers already on the job

A recent report from McKinsey, the global management consultancy, put the workforce challenge this way; “As digitization, automation, and AI reshape whole industries and every enterprise, the only way to realize the potential productivity dividends from that investment will be to have the people and processes in place to capture it.” In their research, 82% of executives were convinced that at least half of the new workforce required to capture those business benefits would have to come from “re-skilling” their current workforce.

Thankfully, the same advances in technology that seem to threaten current workers’ jobs can also re-skill or “upgrade” them for advanced manufacturing. Augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR) can individually train workers on an as-needed basis, right on the shop floor. And, in the case of VR, these new tools can provide virtually hands-on education, anywhere, anytime – all you need is a headset. Such training technology can speed skills acquisition, reduce onboarding time, and even help prevent production downtime by keeping workers on site and on the job.

Three: Trade schools are coming back, and high schools are teaching trades

As colleges have entered the industrial education field, the traditional powerhouses – trade schools – have reimagined and reinvigorated their offerings. Consider the example of Perry Tech, in Washington state. In addition to traditional fields of plumbing and construction, Perry Tech students can study Precision Machining and Manufacturing (and when they get out, Perry Tech graduates earn slightly more than their contemporaries at the nearby four-year college). Small wonder, then, that trade schools have seen a dramatic rise in enrollment.

Not to be outdone by post-public-education opportunities, high schools are also getting serious about training the next generation of industrial workers. The Denver Public Schools has an apprenticeship program that’s become a model for other schools nationwide. It places students in hands-on IT and advanced manufacturing apprenticeships for three years, allowing them to finish their public-school education and walk, well-prepared, directly into a career.

The skilled-labor shortfall will continue for a decade

All of these efforts notwithstanding, current projections show that U.S. manufacturers will still be unable to fill some 2.4 million skilled positions over the next decade. The need, then, is for each manufacturer to take a serious look at what it will take to hire, train and retrain the specific workers they need.

Are you ready to invest in early recruiting, to sell the best and brightest workers on your particular career opportunity? Will you offer customized training that is efficient, effective and – of particular importance to the upcoming generation – engaging? Will you create a workplace culture that makes employees want to stay? Will you show them the respect of providing only the best support, from the technology they command to the innovative industrial products they use? And will you keep them, and your company, ahead of the curve by providing continual training?
If you’re ready to do all that, then you’re ready to develop the industrial workforce of the future.

Manufacturing Global: Top 10 manufacturing trends 2019
The Quad: Trade schools on the rise Employer Engagement for Community Colleges
Construction Dive: How states are tackling the labor shortage
McKinsey: The future of work
Popular Mechanics: The State of American Trade Schools
UPI: Unfilled manufacturing jobs push students toward trade schools