Mar 14, 2012
Emily McMackin
Emily McMackin
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Solving the Skills Gap: How Employers Can Contribute

Technology & Manufacturing: Worker on processing line

What’s the biggest challenge facing the U.S. workforce? It’s not a lack of jobs; it’s a lack of skills. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, employers are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill jobs, despite the high unemployment rate. As many as 600,000 manufacturing jobs are going unfilled, according to a Skills Gap study conducted by Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Manufacturing Institute.

Though some of the lack of skilled labor can be traced to baby boomers who are retiring, a large part is directly connected to the automation increasing in plants. Workers displaced during the Recession are struggling to find jobs comparable in pay because, as manufacturing becomes more advanced and digitized, their skills are becoming obsolete.

With fewer youth pursuing the specialized technical expertise required of today’s manufacturing jobs, this skills gap is likely to continue. So what can employers do about it? In a recent post on the Software Advice blog, software analyst Derek Singleton offers three solutions for overcoming the skills deficit, including: strengthening educational partnerships, investing in corporate in-house training programs and energizing the workforce of tomorrow.

Partnerships with technical colleges can be one the best weapons in a manufacturer’s arsenal. Developing workforce training programs with schools can help manufacturers bring employees up to speed and teach new hires relevant skills, as Singleton describes in this example:

One such partnership is the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ collaboration with Tooling U–an online training program that provides curricula for everything from CNC machining to welding. Tooling U partners with colleges, trade associations, media groups and industry to develop training programs that align with the skills manufacturers need.

In-house training and apprenticeships are another effective way of cultivating talent. Even if workers don’t come in with skills that exactly match a job description, all they need is the aptitude to learn, as Singleton notes in this example:

 We have a model that shows that training in-house is highly effective: the Training Within Industry program. Hugh Alley, President of First Line Training, pointed out in a recent conversation that this program helped train two million women and eight million men after WWII.

To build a skilled, adaptable workforce that will be well-equipped for the challenges ahead, employers should do their part to nurture critical and creative thinking and education among youth in their communities. Read Singleton’s post for more on  employer-sponsored STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs going on across the country.

In today’s job market, the skills needed to succeed are becoming increasingly specialized, and while workers must take responsibility for developing their own strengths, employers play a big part in setting employees up for success by developing workforce training partnerships, apprenticeships and early-education STEM programs. Factories of the future will run as much on creativity and innovation as brute labor, so employers should do everything in their power to cultivate those qualities in workers.

What do you think about Singleton’s suggestions above for solving the skills gap dilemma? What are some strategies employers can use to help bridge the skills gap?

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