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Rather than Replacing: Automation Enhances the Workforce

Photo: Courtesy of Geraldine Lewa

Automation use in manufacturing is at an all-time high and continues to increase, yet the number of unfilled positions is at a critical level. More than 400,000 manufacturing jobs currently stand available and by 2025, up to two million skilled jobs are expected to go unfilled, according to data from the Manufacturing Institute.

A New York Times review of the manufacturing skilled labor shortage reported that the lack of qualified workers has led to what was once unthinkable: 1 in 3 manufacturing companies admit having turned down new work because of a lack of capable labor.

Call for workers

While surprising, a revelation like this supports research in The 2017 Evolution of Automation Study from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, which revealed that the biggest challenge currently facing manufacturers is finding skilled labor to assemble and run high-tech, automated equipment.

When Deloitte’s Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing 2015–2025 outlook surveyed manufacturers about their current workforce, 70 percent said that more than 60 percent of their workforce lacked basic technical training, math skills, problem-solving skills, and technology and computer skills. Given these statistics, the survey also reported that 64 percent of manufacturers find external training and certification programs to be one of the most effective workforce development strategies.

Future of manufacturing

The influx of automation offers manufacturers the opportunity to showcase plant floors to young workers as vastly different than the loud, dusty factories from their parent’s age. Deloitte’s report found that among 18-24 year-olds, manufacturing ranks dead last among industries in which they would choose to start their careers.

Because of this perception, companies need to showcase manufacturing as a desirable and rewarding career for high school and two-year college graduates as well as engineers.

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