Source: Advanced Manufacturing by Vicki Holt
If you’re not experiencing the manufacturing skills shortage firsthand, you’ve likely heard the projections: Up to 2 million of the 3.5 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled in the next 10 years.
What’s not discussed enough, however, are the outdated perceptions of manufacturing that are helping contribute to the skills shortage. Many people still perceive manufacturing jobs as they did several decades ago—manual work conducted on long assembly lines in dirty production environments. As those of us in the industry know, these perceptions don’t square up with reality. Technology careers are flourishing in manufacturing. Workers are spending more time in front of computer screens and less time around loud machines. And the very concept of manufacturing is changing, driven by advancements in areas like 3D printing, robotics and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Still, while most people may hold antiquated views of manufacturing, we are beginning to see a shift in perceptions among today’s youngest workers.
The Millennial Factor
A 2016 study conducted by Opinion Research Corporation and commissioned by Proto Labs surveyed more than 1000 US adults about their views of manufacturing careers. It found that:
Less than 3 in 10 adults (29%) think of manufacturing as a high-tech career choice
Less than one-third (31%) think manufacturing careers are high paying
Only 10% associate a software developer in front of a computer screen with today’s manufacturing jobs
Fortunately, a deeper look at the findings reveal that perceptions are changing among millennials.
For example, 37% of millennials think of manufacturing as being a high-tech career choice, which is significantly more than baby boomers (23%). Also, 49% of millennials believe engineering skills are needed in today’s manufacturing careers, compared with 41% of baby boomers.
This could be why almost half of millennials (47%) think there will be enough qualified professionals to fill the manufacturing industry’s job demands in the next 10 years. That’s a far more optimistic view than the 35% of gen Xers and baby boomers who think the demand will be met.
Much Work Remains
Perceptions about manufacturing careers are improving, but our industry still has much work ahead of us if we want to fill the talent supply.