Today, manufacturing is a vibrant industry. It contributes 12 percent of U.S. GDP and employs roughly 12 million Americans. There are incredible jobs in manufacturing requiring a variety of skill sets, from production and distribution to engineering and environmental health and safety. And, it’s a growing industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ August report, manufacturing has added 159,000 jobs  in 2018.

At the same time, the most recent BLS report on job openings shows that manufacturers posted 506,000 job openings in July. On average for 2018 then, nearly 500,000 jobs have gone unfilled every month in U.S. manufacturing. With a skills gap that’s also growing, it’s no wonder the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte have predicted there could be as many as 2 million unfilled positions in manufacturing by 2025.

As an industry, manufacturing is working to overcome negative perceptions. Generational stories of your “grandfather’s manufacturing” as well as depictions of sweatshops by Hollywood have not been kind to us. With annual events like National Manufacturing Day in October, and innovative partnerships with schools, the industry is making headway to overcome those perceptions. We’re talking more about the many new technologies impacting manufacturing today, like robotics, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence.

“Manufacturing 4.0” is a commonly heard buzzword that represents the infusion of even more technology into the workplace. Manufacturing leaders are truly pulling together to change the mindsets of today’s young talent — the next generation of manufacturers. We are looking for ways to share the excitement careers in manufacturing can bring to prospective employees as well as enticing them to see the challenge and value careers in manufacturing bring.

But overcoming negative perceptions and attracting new talent to the industry are just two pieces of the puzzle in terms of solving the skills gap and the workforce shortage we face. We’re continuously looking for new ways to create efficiencies and more productivity, implement state-of-the-art processes and equipment, decrease cycle times and increase made-to-order solutions — all very positive changes for our customers that take investment.

As manufacturing leaders invest more in their factories, the skills gap will continue to widen. This means we need to not only attract new talent with new skills, but we must — as an industry — invest in reskilling or upskilling our current talent.

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This is a challenge all its own — one we should also meet head on. Manufacturing leaders must boost team members’ confidence in embracing technology. We must offer training programs on new equipment, or even for new digital tools that help us understand how our business is running. Through tuition reimbursement programs, we can help current and future talent become comfortable with computers, learn how to code and identify process improvements. The opportunities in manufacturing are exciting for both current and future employees, and empowering our workforce has never been more important.

The truth is, if you engage people in the right way, the value they can bring to your company goes beyond words — and may even trump technology! Manufacturing workforces have creativity, expertise and knowledge that can phenomenally impact business — and that’s why it’s important to provide people at all levels with opportunities to voice their opinions. Our industry needs leaders at the floor level, the team leader level and the management level who demonstrate care, compassion, understanding and empathy to create an environment where people share so that we can learn, understand and take action to best support our workforce. If manufacturers want the best of what their people have to offer, engaging them is paramount in the new manufacturing world. It’s essential to both attract and to retain.

We’ll always have those tools and equipment that are foundational to building our quality products, whatever they may be. And we well know the importance of maintaining those and increasing their efficiencies to produce the best products and solutions we can for our customers. What we can’t forget is that it’s just as important to invest in our people — current and future — as well as engage them, letting them know that we want their hearts and minds just as much as their hands and time.

Chris E. Muhlenkamp is senior vice president of global operations and integrated supply chain for Allegion, a global security products and solutions provider with Colorado Springs operations employing 500 people. Contact Muhlenkamp at chris.muhlenkamp@allegion.com

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