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Cultivating the Next Generation of Manufacturers

Manufacturing jobs opening in US, are workers qualified?” This recent Fox News headline poses an important question facing the manufacturing industry. While more than one million new manufacturing jobs have been created in the U.S. over the last seven years, 390,000 remain unfilled. As the skills gap continues to widen, manufacturers across the country are struggling to find qualified talent, leaving hundreds of thousands of jobs vacant. As the article examines Wisconsin’s Foxconn deal and the number of jobs it is expected produce, it uses the future plant’s plans to highlight a trend afflicting manufacturers in every corner of the country – open jobs and a deficiency of skilled talent. This skills gap, as the article points out, can be attributed in part to a technological shift in manufacturing, where many manufacturers now utilize innovative technology requiring specialized operating skills. Unfortunately, there is not enough skilled labor to keep pace with the industry’s evolution.

To make matters worse, the manufacturing industry has been stymied by an antiquated reputation that has kept younger generations from pursuing a career in the industry. In fact, a recent Deloitte study showed that one-third of Americans would not encourage their child to pursue a manufacturing career. As more and more manufacturing workers begin to retire, leaving an even greater hole in manufacturing talent, how can the industry cultivate new talent? Mark Holleran, CEO and president of Xplore Technologies, explores this question in a recent piece in Industry Week. Holleran suggests changing the perception of manufacturing by enticing millennials with mobile technology, offering greater flexibility and connectivity as operations become more automated through advanced technology. “Now that millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, manufacturers can no longer ignore their preference for digital technology in the workplace. Instead, they must rely on this generation to become the proverbial bridge in the tech knowledge gap that occurs in cross-generational teams. Millennials are key in the seamless transfer and implementation of all future advancements across the manufacturing floor,” said Holleran.

Enticing millennials to pursue careers in manufacturing is just one piece of the puzzle. It is imperative that we continue to seek alignment with our education systems to provide students with 21st-century career-training opportunities. If they want the job but don’t have the skills to do it, we’ll stay stuck at square one. The skills gap is one of the greatest challenges facing North Carolina manufacturers and one we must take seriously. The NC Chamber is committed to working with our business community, education systems and elected leaders to make North Carolina the number one producer of world-class talent, closing this gap long-term.

Gary J. Salamido
Vice President, Government Affairs
North Carolina Chamber