4 Ways Manufacturers are Closing the Skills Gap

Nearly 2 million manufacturing jobs are expected to go unfilled over the next decade. While manufacturers have been cultivating skilled talent through partnerships with schools, they're also looking to more immediate solutions that can help close the skills gap.

It takes a manufacturer an average of 70 days to recruit a skilled production worker and 94 days to recruit a degreed engineer, according to “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing: 2015 and Beyond,” a Deloitte report. More than 70% of executives said there’s a shortage of adequate technology and computer skills. While education and training may help fill the shortfall in the future, here are 4 strategies manufacturers are using to fill jobs now.

1. Offering bonuses and higher wages. TechTarget contributor Sue Hildreth said one thing that’s not getting enough attention is the fact that wages haven’t risen and have been on the decline since 2007. Many manufacturers are having to boost wages or even offer signing bonuses to attract skilled talent. Eighty percent of manufacturing executives surveyed said they are willing to pay more than market rates in workforce areas where supply is limited. While the C-suite may at first be resistant to raising wages in an uncertain economy, a bigger threat to the bottom line can be lost productivity due to unfilled positions.

Stacy Murray, president of manufacturing recruiter Murray & Associates, LLC, said that organizations have to increase their wages, especially for highly skilled operators. “If I have a client looking for a Swiss Machine operator, the hourly wage goes out the window,” said Murray.

80% of manufacturing executives surveyed said they are willing to pay more than market rates in workforce areas where supply is limited.

2. Forming regional partnerships and reallocating labor. In many regions, manufacturers are looking past their competitive urges and even partnering with each other. The Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Ohio MEP) is a combination of seven statewide partnerships that works with the Ohio Development Services Agency to provide small and midsized manufacturers products and services to increase their productivity, growth and competitiveness.

Jennifer McNelly, executive director of The Manufacturing Institute, said these regional partnerships and collaborative efforts can help build momentum in the talent pool. “We want manufacturers to engage with their communities and educational systems,” said McNelly, “We’re seeing an increase in those partnerships.”

Dieter Korte, senior vice president of customer segments and manufacturing at CNA, said manufacturers also need to work with what they have. Retraining employees with a high aptitude for other branches or disciplines can be done by building effective training strategies with highly-skilled managers. “Train employees from other disciplines or branches that have high aptitude and will be able to learn the skills necessary to help your business succeed,” said Korte.

3. Rebranding the industry. Despite the fact that many manufacturing facilities are modern, sleek and clean plants, public perception still pegs manufacturing jobs as dirty and dangerous. Experts say manufacturers need to serve as ambassadors of the industry and reach beyond schools to job-seekers in other industries.

Organizations can learn from GE’s recent multi-million campaign to rebrand itself and attract better talent. Recruitment firm Jibe said that manufacturers need to look less to “outdated recruiting strategies” like job fairs and more to active engagement that sells not just the organization but the industry itself. “The most skilled, desirable workers are often passive candidates, meaning they aren’t actively looking for a new opportunity. They won’t be showing up at your job fair booth, or replying to generic InMail messages,” says Jibe.

4. Improving gender equality. While women make up half the workforce in the United States, they constitute only a third of the manufacturing labor pool. A study by Deloitte said women are the industry’s “largest pool of untapped talent” and that the portion of women in manufacturing leadership roles also lagged other industries. Organizations can benefit by doing more to promote and encourage the training and hiring of women in manufacturing operations. Craig Giffi, vice chairman of Deloitte, LLP said that the industry is missing out on a “critical talent resource” to advance manufacturing, increase America’s competitiveness and help close the skills gap.

Kelli Vallieres, CEO of Sound Manufacturing in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, said that as the industry has become increasingly digital, it has entirely changed factors. She said women have opportunities not only as operators and technicians, but also in purchasing, marketing, sales and customer service.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events