Tag Archives: skilled labor shortage

Solutions to Manufacturing Skilled Labor Shortage

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Modern manufacturing requires skilled workers – a fact many companies aren’t prepared to address.

CIMx recently attended a manufacturing trade show and had the opportunity to speak with manufacturers about their industry concerns.

One topic kept coming up again and again – the workforce. Manufacturers are worried they won’t have enough skilled workers to meet production demand.

Manufacturing companies are receiving new orders and business is growing, but many question whether the current workforce can manage demand. If they can’t, and they need to hire more, can they find a hire with the right skill set? Will the right employee be willing to work in manufacturing? If they do take the job, how quickly can new workers be trained? If an employee leaves, is there someone available to take their place?  What critical skills will be lost when someone retires?

New orders and a growing business is a good sign for manufacturing in America, but only if companies can keep up with demand.

Understanding the Problem

Quality.

There are steps manufacturers can take to solve the skilled labor gap. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The skilled labor problem shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who observes the industry. We’ve spoken about it before, and the industry warns the problem will continue to grow as older employees retire and manufacturing processes continue to evolve.

Recently, the need for skilled labor, especially with technology and software skills, has accelerated as companies increasingly turn to smart manufacturing, automation, and data-driven production to increase throughput and profit. The industry isn’t attracting workers with the right skills to manage and optimize modern manufacturing.

There isn’t a single core reason for this problem, but a combination of factors. Consider this:

  • Manufacturing has changed, but a college graduate is more likely to imagine a factory worker with a wrench than a tablet. Manufacturing has done little to change this dated perception, but some companies, such as GE, are taking positive steps to recognize the problem.
  • Our industry has been shortsighted in addressing the technology gap on the shop floor. Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the struggle of manufacturing to attract software developers. A critical reason is the perceived lack of support technology workers see in the industry. Companies still rely on paper on the shop floor, ensuring graduates turn to tech firms, rather than manufacturers, for employment.
  • Manufacturers don’t offer the training programs skilled tech workers need. Without training, workers can’t keep up with the pace of change in technology, leading to job stress and lower productivity. Only recently have companies begun designing vocational programs for skilled labor.

Solving the Skilled Labor Gap

There is no magic solution to the skilled labor shortage in manufacturing, but there are steps companies can take to mitigate the problems.

  • Eliminate information silos. Consider the critical skills and best practices in your manufacturing workflow as an asset and protect them. Too often, companies take for granted work will “just get done” without considering the process. Manufacturers need to capture critical processes, helping to create internal training programs for new employees.
  • Increase employee productivity. Dated and error-prone paper-based processes hinder production. Employees spend more time managing paper and looking for information than actually building products. Modern tech workers, the ones manufacturing needs to attract, will find work in industries with more job satisfaction when faced with paper build books.
  • Empower current workers. The solution may not be a new hire, but empowering existing employees. Utilizing a software system such as an MES or Paperless Manufacturing will provide an HMI current workers can use. It won’t give you a programmer on the shop floor, but it will allow you to better manage people, processes and machines during production.
  • Manage the workflow. Errors often occur when workers don’t read or even consult the work instructions. Paperless Manufacturing uses process enforcement ensure the shop floor follows steps precisely. In this way, the system becomes a digital instructor; ensuring knowledge and experience aren’t lost when someone retires and the manufacturing engineers instructions are followed precisely.
  • Fill in the technology gaps. Study your processes and identify where there are gaps. Develop a strategy to fill those gaps. Focusing effort and resources on one aspect of the manufacturing value chain will offer minimal benefit if other areas are hindering overall efficiency.
  • Change the culture. As evidenced by the difficulty in attracting skilled labor, manufacturing has an image problem. Slick commercials and an investment in technology will help, but without confronting head-on the culture that created the image, problems will persist. Many manufacturers are reluctant to embrace change, adopting a strategy of waiting when faced with challenges. Tech workers know this, and it drives many to seek employment elsewhere.

Where will Manufacturing Go from Here?

Manufacturing is changing. Whether you call it Industry 4.0, Smart Manufacturing, or another term, manufacturers need new skills and new workers to capitalize on the opportunity.  Waiting another year or doing nothing is not a sustainable solution as skilled workers continue to seek employment in industries where they are appreciated and supported.

The first step to solving the skilled labor gap is to admit there is a problem, and then developing a strategy to overcome it.

Want to learn more, or see how Paperless Manufacturing can be the foundation for improved manufacturing and shop floor modernization? Then contact CIMx today for more information. We’re happy to help.

Advertisements

Four Paperless Manufacturing Predictions for 2014

We take a look at the manufacturing topics and trends you’ll be talking about in 2014, and offer hints and tips to help you get a leg up in the New Year.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

This year, I began thinking as 2013 rumbled to a close and 2014 burst on the scene in a polar vortex, considering what to expect in the New Year.

Manufacturing is in a pretty good place right now, with six straight months of growth according to ISM, and reports predicting continued growth and confidence in manufacturing for 2014, but there are still concerns and risks.  This week, we’ll highlight for manufacturing a few 2014 trends, and look at ways your business can turn a challenge into a competitive advantage.

Is your manufacturing business ready for 2014?  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Is your manufacturing business ready for 2014? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

1. Cloud Computing and Cybersecurity

As more and more servers become virtual, and businesses continue to search for ways to drive down IT costs, maintenance, and total cost of ownership, consolidation through the cloud is becoming an appealing option (or reality) for many companies.

Manufacturing isn’t ready to fully embrace the cloud.  There are still challenges to working in the cloud that make the option a non-starter for many companies.  Cybersecurity is one.  If there is one thing we’ve learned from the recent data breach at Target, and the continuing saga of NSA snooping, it’s that the cloud isn’t nearly as secure and safe as we would like it to be.  For manufacturing, where security and secure accessibility is paramount, the cloud is an unnecessary risk.

In 2014, vendors continue to adapt their offering and messaging regarding the cloud to manufacturers.  Keep an eye out for new innovations to target security and accessibility.  For your own business, be wary of fully embracing the latest trends.  Look for ways to utilize the strength of the cloud while minimizing the risk. 

2. Mobile Manufacturing

More and more of us are embracing mobile computing (tablets and cell phones) over the traditional PC.  Businesses are making the move as well, as employees find advantages in mobility.

What can you you do to make future trends work for you?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What can you you do to make future trends work for you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In 2014, look for manufacturing to continue slowly embracing mobility.  There are apps and software focused on mobile manufacturing, but they don’t yet offer a practical shop floor solution.  For example, have you ever tried to view a complex CAD drawing on a cell phone screen?  In addition, cost and security is a limiting factor.  Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) will work for many businesses, but not for the secure shop floor.  Many shop floors are a dangerous place for an expensive mobile device.

We see manufacturers taking practical first steps to embracing mobile manufacturing.  Quality Control with a tablet and a strong MES can walk the floor and proactively increase quality, rather than waiting for a problem to happen.  For your own shop floor, look at ways you can benefit from the mobility – implementing it where it makes sense.

 3. The Qualified Worker Crunch

This is an issue we’ve seen in the past, but it’s also one that the industry continues to grapple with in 2014.

The skilled labor shortage continues to impact manufacturing in America.  According to statistics, more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled.  A study by Thomasnet.com reveals more than 80% of the current manufacturing workforce is between 45 and 65.  Studies have identified the shortage as not just a manpower issue, but an education issue.  Colleges are taking steps to address the issue with new programs and training opportunities, but manufacturers have also begun looking at ways they can ensure new workers can be effectively trained, and the knowledge and skills of the older workers can be passed on to a new generation before critical skills are lost to worker turnover.

In 2014, look for more attention to be spent identifying critical shop floor skills and for process enforcement and training to be a focus of manufacturing.  Take a close look at the processes and training programs you have in place to minimize the impact of the qualified worker crunch on your business.

Is your enterprise security up to date?  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Is your enterprise security up to date? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

 4. The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data

In recent years, we’ve been riding the wave of Big Data and the Internet of Things due to advances in our ability to collect and store data.  It’s an issue we’ve seen manufacturing grapple with in the past.

The challenge we see for manufacturing in 2014 is collecting the “right” data and having the shop floor and process visibility and control to act on it.  We’re seeing the customer, supplier chain and the shop floor connected by information.  Big data holds the promise of improved quality and production, and an optimized and efficient enterprise, but only if your company has the tools and ability to act on the data – shaping manufacturing of the future through technology, real-time data and analytics.  Customers expect data and information at their fingerprints.  Are you ready?

As I wrap this blog up, I already see issues I’d love to explore further (3D PrintingGreen ManufacturingRobots on the shop floor?), but the issues and trends presented here offer opportunities for the New Year.  The strategic steps you take now can have a positive impact on your business in 2014.

What do you think?  What issues do you see impacting the industry in 2014?  Leave us a comment and let us know.  Our friends at the manufacturing software reviews site Software advice are also conducting a survey on the most popular manufacturing products, and if you’d like to contribute, take the survey here and see what other industry leaders are using and planning for 2014.  And as always, if you have a question don’t hesitate to ask.  We’re happy to help.