How Advanced Manufacturing is Bridging the Interest Gap
There are many reasons that manufacturers across the country are facing a skills gap, or a mismatch between the skills required for open positions and the skills possessed by members of the talent pool.
One primary reason for the skills gap is an interest gap; when high school students think about their futures, they don’t think about manufacturing. In a networked, social word, it’s hard for high school students to recognize the power of advanced manufacturing that produces the objects shaping their lives. How do we make sure students don’t see manufacturing as a “dumb, dirty and dangerous” field? How do we ensure that young people don’t think of factories as industrial dinosaurs mired in the past?
One way is to share compelling stories that connect the incredible forces of advanced manufacturing to the world around them.
Origins of the Interest Gap
Edge Factor, the company that created the video above, is a media production house and educational resource for Career Technical Education (CTE) instructors who are looking for fresh ways to engage students and generate interest around careers in manufacturing. Why is this critical to the health of the manufacturing industry? To stay competitive, this industry needs to attract new talent, but younger workers are less likely to be interested in careers in manufacturing, opting to attend four-year colleges and pursue careers in the service sector, or in some cases agriculture, instead.
They’ve likely picked up a strong message from the generation that preceded them. In 2016, people employed in manufacturing made up just 10% of the American workforce, a decrease from the quarter of American workers who found employment in the industry in 1960. In recent years, the trend didn’t look much better. The U.S. has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000.
Today’s high school students are likely getting the message that American manufacturing is on the way out and that the jobs that used to exist in the sector were grimy, hazardous and mundane anyway.
In a recent study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, Generation Y survey respondents ranked manufacturing last among seven domestic industries in terms of their career choices. While worries about job security were the leading reason parents didn’t encourage their kids to go into manufacturing, 53% of respondents said perceptions of the industry made it hard to recommend jobs in the field. So good riddance, right?
But there’s another side to this story.
With the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, and with the increased automation of American factories, today’s manufacturing centers are ripe for a high-tech rebranding that can entice students into exciting fields that offer growth potential, often without a college degree.
Generating Interest & Making Connections
While Millennials are interested in pursuing careers in technology, they aren’t very interested in pursuing careers in manufacturing. So manufacturers are doing two things to intrigue work-ready Millennials: 1) Updating their recruiting campaigns to incorporate virtual reality (VR) and streaming video; 2) Exposing students to the advanced robotics, 3D printers and computing systems used on today’s shop floors.
While hosting VR exhibits might be possible for big companies like GE, what can be done to generate enthusiasm for advanced manufacturing at the local and regional level?
Across the country, community stakeholders are joining forces to develop apprenticeship programs. Additionally, regional manufacturers, governments, nonprofits and educators are working together to develop branded campaigns that help connect schools with local industry leaders. Campaigns like Massachusetts’ AMP it up! provide community engagement and information for career-curious middle school and high school students who want to learn more about manufacturers in their area.
One of AMP it up!’s most noteworthy programs is its video challenge. Take a look at this 2016 winner. Local students toured the Zildjian production facilities to learn about the company’s history and manufacturing process. Then they spliced their video footage with a narrative voice-over and a live recording of an extended drum solo backbeat using Zildjian cymbals.
Organizations that are looking to fight the interest gap should pay special attention to several components that make this video challenge successful.
- It engages youths through technology and encourages them to be creative.
- It encourages students to connect the field of manufacturing to products in their everyday lives.
- It puts students into communication with manufacturing leaders and gives them access to their facilities.
- It allows young participants to create a message that will appeal to their peers.
As an added benefit, apprenticeships and other community programs can help students learn about and join established talent pipelines. Due to automation, today’s occupations in advanced manufacturing require a certain amount of skill. That means tomorrow’s workers need to be able to hit the ground running. Piquing their interest is the first step.
Where do we go next?
The interest gap is one pitfall that the American economy will have to dodge on the way to Industry 4.0, the term widely used by writers and leaders to refer to the near future of industrial development. This fourth industrial revolution will be distinguished by several factors, particularly the combination of exceptionally advanced robotics, 3D printing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Together, these factors will produce smart factories and intelligent supply chains. Individual machines will be equipped with sensors that gather data, allowing machines to communicate with each other in complex patterns and to limit the need for human analysis and intervention. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, will help machines solve problems among themselves, freeing up humans to maintain and expand systems.
What does all of this mean for jobs? It means that while repetitive manual tasks will be automated, new technical and creative jobs will emerge. And that’s something kids can get excited about.
Meet in the Middle, Move Toward the Future
Right now, there’s a wide gap between the advanced manufacturing workplaces of today and the shop floors of the past that Americans imagine when they think of manufacturing. If communities do not counteract this vision, that gap will only grow wider in the coming years as Industry 4.0 comes into its own. Counteracting the old stigma of manufacturing will require compelling stories, technological outreach, community engagement and on-the-ground contact between manufacturers and the workforce of tomorrow.