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Training & Education

Erasing stigmas

By Meaghan Ziemba

The root cause of the industrial skills gap is a matter of interest

October 2018 - Manufacturers are joining forces with community leaders and educational institutions to provide hands-on opportunities to high school and college students in an attempt to close the industrial skills gap, but robust apprenticeships only are solving part of the problem. To take it a step further, manufacturers should use their skills in practicing root cause analysis to address quality issues in their operations. The idea is to treat the problem—not the symptoms of the problem—and many industry leaders believe an lack of interest is the root cause of the industrial skills gap.

Younger generations are quick learners but have demonstrated a lack of interest in learning the techniques needed for manufacturing and engineering opportunities because of misconceptions surrounding the trade.

Dispelling the four Ds

Doug Jensen, president of Rock Valley College, Rockford, Illinois, believes there are four main misconceptions discouraging the younger generation from pursuing careers related to the field. They think manufacturing is dirty, dark, dangerous and dull.

A study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing”  reported that Generation Y respondents ranked manufacturing last among seven domestic industries in terms of their career choice—with 53 percent saying perceptions of the industry made it hard to recommend jobs.

To dispel the four Ds of manufacturing, industry needs to identify the root cause of each.

Outdated, dirty environment

According to survey results from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), more than 20 percent of parents viewed manufacturing as an outdated and/or dark and dirty work environment. While this may have been true during the industry’s early years, many of today’s manufacturing environments look more like clean rooms and often have a laboratory-like atmosphere. Companies are required to meet strict industry standards to produce the highest quality products and maintain a healthy, safe environment for employees.

Career dead end

Industry 4.0, advanced robotics, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and 3D printing (additive manufacturing) are creating 21st century job opportunities that will lead to a dynamic, fulfilling career of greater responsibilities, challenges and rewards. Counteracting the old stigma of manufacturing involves compelling stories, technological outreach, community engagement and networking between manufacturers and the individuals who comprise the workforce of tomorrow.

Dangerous

Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma practices have improved many facilities’ safety ratings. By eliminating waste and unnecessary steps within production lines, companies can monitor potential dangers more effectively and avoid workplace hazards in the future.

Dull and repetitive

Today’s advanced manufacturing requires a different skill set. Engineering software and 3D design have created opportunities in solar, biomedical, game design, medical devices, electric vehicles and aerospace. Other positions require complex skills to operate machines that maximize efficiency. The best employees are constantly thinking of new ways to develop a product’s design or production—they are not just carrying out repetitive tasks.

Engage, encourage, connect

Manufacturing is the backbone of the economy. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, for every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.89 is added to the economy—the highest multiplier effect of any economic center. Manufacturers must develop creative ways to engage, encourage and connect younger generations to the industry so they consider it as a career choice and help foster U.S. economic growth.

Events like FIRST Robotics provide hands-on experiences for students who design and create their own robots, introducing them to the technological skills that manufacturers want.

Partnering with industry organizations that draw young people into technical skills such as coding, engineering design, CAD drawing, fabrication, machining and electrical is another option.

Trade schools and apprenticeship programs provide hands-on training in parallel with classroom studies. Students can learn and perfect marketable trade skills through work-and-learn programs. Apprenticeships programs pay students while they study, a shift away from the notion that success depends on a college degree.

The key is to tap into the interests of students at an early age and show them how they can tie those interests into a successful career in manufacturing and engineering. FFJ

Meaghan Ziemba is the Content Marketing Manager at Advanced Machine & Engineering.

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