Facing the hiring crisis in the manufacturing sector | The daily journalist

(AP File Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Chris Campbell
plant manager at PPG’s Oak Creek site

“We are hiring.” How many times have you seen this this week? Or even just today? It seems that no industry is immune to the labor shortage crisis.

For the manufacturing sector, the labor shortage predates the pandemic by a decade, with baby boomers leading to a massive exodus of skilled and experienced talent from the industry since the 2010s.

According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 25% of the manufacturing workforce is 55 or older. Add to that the fact that typical “baby boomer” retirements have more than doubled during the pandemic, with 1.5 million being early retirements, and it’s easy to see (and feel) that we’re at a tipping point.

The industry has been trying to change the perception of manufacturing jobs among young people for decades, but common misconceptions about manufacturing careers continue to be death to attract and retain talent.

A study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found that manufacturers will need to hire 4.6 million workers by 2028, but nearly half of those jobs could go unfilled. Why? Less than 50% of the upcoming workforce sees manufacturing as a viable career. In fact, manufacturing is the lowest career choice for Americans aged 18 to 24. And worse, only three in 10 parents would suggest a career in manufacturing to their children, despite recognition of its importance to the national economy and defense.

The problem is enormous. The National Association of Manufacturers reports that more than 70% of manufacturers cite the inability to attract skilled workers as their biggest challenge. Given the grim statistics, what should factory managers do with open jobs? The list is daunting, but for now, mindset shifts will be essential.

Continue to dispel the myths. National Manufacturing Week, October 7-14, is an annual celebration across the country. Manufacturing jobs are plentiful and a viable career choice; the work is innovative, clean and safe; and the positions are well paid. According to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the average American manufacturing worker earns $77,506. And the automated processes and robotics used in factories actually create more jobs. In fact, Wisconsin manufacturers account for 18.57% of the state’s total production, employing 16.97% of the workforce, according to NAM.

Do whatever it takes to retain the workers you have. Burnout and feelings of worthlessness are the drivers of employee quits. Celebrate manufacturing as a great place to work and recognize the role each individual plays in the overall success of the organization.

Upgrade the skills of your existing workforce: Training, retraining and internal development keep employees engaged and allow companies to creatively address staffing shortages by reassigning workers to areas that need them. Promote a culture of professional growth and agility.

Source of the complete talent pool. We know that women and people of color remain an under-tapped talent pool for manufacturing. There is also a contingent of workers who are often screened by recruitment software. More than 70 million working Americans don’t have a college degree but are known as STARS – Skilled Through Alternative Routes. Proactively seek out this talent.

Create pathways from high school to career. Partner with local high schools to provide immersive learning experiences. High school students, as well as the adults in their lives, probably have no idea that many entry-level, high-paying manufacturing jobs go unfilled. These are positions that do not require technical know-how or industry knowledge, but rather skills such as following instructions, willingness to learn, and attention to detail. Celebrate these workers and perfect them along the way. Local opportunities are available, such as the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which lists local technical colleges for high school students to seek manufacturing opportunities.

Establish pre-apprenticeship programs to fast-track students into manufacturing careers. These pathway programs provide students with early training and educational opportunities to earn industry-recognized degrees and certifications. The benefits of these efforts will far outweigh the initial costs and logistics.

Speak directly to the parents. Find every opportunity to talk with the parents. If they continue to perceive industry as one big, dark, dirty workshop with workers standing on an assembly line, they will continue to discourage their children from pursuing careers in industry.

Invest in local community partners. In our backyards, local nonprofits and community organizations cultivate talent and can provide your organization with access to the students you want to reach. Build meaningful relationships with these organizations and financially support their work. Much is already being done to expose students to career opportunities, starting in elementary school. For example, the NEW Manufacturing Alliance works with educators to encourage the K-12 population to pursue careers in manufacturing while teaching them to be critical thinkers and solve real-world problems.

We know the manufacturing sector is the backbone of economic recovery, and the next decade will be an exciting time for workers on the ground. Despite pandemic-related business disruptions, most manufacturing companies are forecasting growth in sales, employment, output and wages in the coming year alone. This is the story that needs to be told if we have any chance of tackling the manufacturing labor shortage.

At PPG, we’re thriving and hiring. We would love to talk with you about the possibility of joining the team. Learn more at https://www.ppg.com (general site) or link to the careers tab on the site: https://ppg.referrals.selectminds.com.

Chris Campbell is Plant Manager at PPG’s Oak Creek site. She has over 13 years of manufacturing experience and serves on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Over 570 employees work at the Oak Creek site, and there are currently 60 job openings. The site produces industrial, automotive and packaging materials.

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