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Manufacturers: The Future Workforce Starts with First

Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM)
April 25, 2019

It’s no secret: the future of manufacturing depends on workers. And right now, manufacturers are facing an astounding worker shortage. Experts predict the skills gap may leave an estimated 2.4 million manufacturing positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028, putting manufacturers at serious risk of not being able to keep pace with customer demands. With baby boomers retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day, the time to act is now to ensure that those open positions don’t continue to increase.[1]

That’s why we asked inventor, entrepreneur, and STEM advocate Dean Kamen to keynote PowerPlex 2019. Through his work with the organization he founded, FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), Kamen is taking a proactive approach to make sure the next generation has the right skill set to succeed in a manufacturing organization.

If you’re not already familiar, FIRST is dedicated to motivating the next generation to understand, use, and enjoy science and technology through exciting robotics competitions.

Here are three ways FIRST and Dean Kamen’s efforts are helping to close the skills gap in manufacturing.

The impact of FIRST is bigger than STEM.

FIRST inspires a lifelong love of learning that is critical to perseverance in an ever-changing workforce.

For those interested in a career in manufacturing, a strong educational foundation and eagerness to try new things is absolutely critical when you consider the rate at which new technology is adopted in the industry.

Many manufacturers today are undergoing a digital transformation, brought on by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This shift in technology used to source, design, build, assemble, and deliver products has in turn changed the kinds of workers manufacturers need to succeed.

According to a report released by Deloitte, the ability to work with computers and manufacturing technology is a critical skillset followed by followed by digital skills, programming skills, and critical thinking skills. While all of these skill sets are related to STEM, the report also makes clear that a higher education degree is not necessary to meet current market demand.[2]

FIRST is committed to fostering, cultivating, and preserving a culture of diversity and inclusion.

The Manufacturing Institute predicts that one of the keys to closing the skills gap in manufacturing is women. When you consider the number of jobs available in the marketplace and the number of young adults entering the workforce, women must consider careers in manufacturing—to the industry’s benefit. Carolynn Lee, executive director of the Manufacturing Institute, the social impact arm of the National Association for Manufacturers, says: “Women represent one of the largest pools of untapped talent for manufacturers, and closing manufacturing’s gender gap is key to closing the skills gap that has limited businesses’ ability to evolve and expand. In addition to filling open positions, though, research shows that gender diversity benefits manufacturing firms by creating a culture that improves their ability to innovate and grow.”[3]

FIRST shares this perspective when it comes to all STEM opportunities, including those in manufacturing. FIRST says: “To build a uniquely diverse and innovative workforce—one that can truly address the challenges facing today’s world—we need kids of all backgrounds and capabilities in the professional pipeline. All kids need equitable access to opportunity, relevant mentorship, and engagement to build a foundation for a bright future.”

FIRST is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven and operated organization, and as such promotes a culture of gratitude.

How do young adults learn how to work in the manufacturing industry? From manufacturers! FIRST shares manufacturing’s culture of apprenticeship and training, extending it into the school system by exposing young adults to the vast opportunities available.

FIRST is supported by a strong and generous network of corporations, educational institutions, professional organizations, mentors, coaches, volunteers, teachers, individual donors, and many others without whom FIRST could not make the impact it does.

And this is where this approach gets interesting for manufacturers: The more young adults are exposed to the expansive number of jobs available—from more traditional jobs like welding, to advanced jobs like programming for robots—the more they might consider those vocations.

Manufacturers should feel incentivized, in this case, to engage their local communities to the future of the industry, and actively inspire the next generation.

[1] Source: Deloitte, 2018 Skills Gap in Manufacturing Study.

[2] Source: Deloitte, 2018 Skills Gap in Manufacturing Study.


About the Author

Dave Morfas Director of Product Marketing, Plex Systems

Dave Morfas has worked in the high-tech industry for more than 20 years with customers in Europe, Asia Pac, Latin America and North America in a variety of group management, product marketing, and product management roles. Currently Dave serves as Director of Product Marketing for Plex overseeing strategic product direction, competitive intelligence, and content marketing and creation.