U.S. Manufacturing Jobs are Back… But Where are the Skilled Workers?

Recently, the United States has undergone a resurgence in consumer demand for “made in the U.S.A.” products, and the desire for American manufacturing jobs has experienced something of a renaissance with more manufacturers planning to add U.S. jobs in the next few years. But many companies are finding that it’s not adding extra jobs that’s an obstacle: it’s the need for qualified candidates.

A report published jointly by Accenture Strategy and the Manufacturing Institute confirms that the lack of workers with knowledge of applied engineering for manufacturing is leading to a “severe” shortage of applicants in as much as one-third of the entire industry. Another 60 percent of manufacturing companies surveyed stated that they have difficulty finding skilled staff members.

Manufacturing jobs in the United States have grown more high-tech and high-skill over the years, with workers needing more education and training in the fields of industrial and product engineering, especially. Where there are plenty of engineering students enrolled in universities around the country, though, most research institutions are concerned with the theoretical side of engineering rather than the applied, hands-on part of the discipline.

Matt Reilly, senior managing director of Accenture Strategy, stated in the report that many younger students want to learn more about computer science and programming rather than focusing on manufacturing-related engineering. Said Riley of today’s university students, “Manufacturing is nowhere in their list” of potential careers.

Part of the reason for this disinterest could have to do with manufacturing’s past. Russ Rasmus, managing director for manufacturing at Accenture Strategy, told CNBC that companies used to be more focused in manual labor, but now “people are working on machinery which needs manual skills plus digital skills.”

Manufacturing today relies heavily on computer-aided design and production, with computer numerical control (CNC) machines used in much of the industry. Yet with fewer workers knowing how to utilize this equipment and other machinery, the positions that Americans wanted brought back to the U.S. might not get filled.

One solution to help encourage interest in high-tech manufacturing careers is for the industry to partner with educational institutions to encourage a variety of engineering professions, or, rather, a more interdisciplinary approach. Another solution, offered by Rasmus, is to “re-skill” current workers to keep them up-to-date on evolving technologies.

In order to meet the demands of the industry, experts do agree that much work will need to be done to in order to not only keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S. but to expand the number of career opportunities, as well.

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