Advancing Manufacturing Education: It’s More Important Now Than Ever

If we bring baseline training and education opportunities to younger workers, they can take that knowledge and spin it into something that will continue to drive the industry forward, keeping processes fresh and challenging the status quo.

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In 2022, the number of U.S. employees in manufacturing reached its highest point in the last decade — and thousands more are needed as the push to migrate manufacturing operations stateside continues. Attracting and retaining a quality workforce is a top business challenge of manufacturers which makes employee training and education critical. Implementing thoughtful and intentional employee training and education programs helps address worker shortages by encouraging and attracting the next generation of employees while also updating skills for those already working in the field.

As industry leaders, we must weave better education and training programs into the recruitment process and day-to-day operations. The U.S. can become a manufacturing powerhouse by creating strong education partnerships with universities and colleges, as well as through outreach to high schools. Creating an early talent pipeline and providing students with hands-on training will help the industry establish a solid foundation of capable workers. It’s critical that we train the existing workforce — and also the upcoming generation of workers — on new machines and technologies specifically in manufacturing.

Emerging Technologies Should Excite

As manufacturers invest in advanced analytics, modeling and simulation, and the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s important that students understand how the technology works just as much as learning how equipment used by manufacturers works. For example, automation and IoT allow manufacturers to keep up with demand by boosting productivity and capturing data that shows how to make processes more efficient. Working with mobile ERP solutions also provides real-time visibility into supply chain operations, as well as the reporting tools to maintain compliance.

While traditional college and university experiences are great options for young people entering the workforce, technical programs should also be considered just as valuable. For example, programs at schools such as Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio provide U.S. manufacturers with a pipeline of skilled workers. The college partners with over 80 different Northeast Ohio microelectronics and global manufacturing companies to provide students with hands-on training needed to enter the workforce. These students are then able to jump right into an industry that needs them: 100% of program graduates have been hired into the manufacturing industry.

Manufacturing is poised to attract the next generation of workers as their natural affinity for technology can be matched with the industry’s evolution. As technology continues to evolve, the need for highly skilled workers will only increase. But the industry can’t evolve without education, innovation, or a drive to be more technologically savvy much of which will be lead by the next generation of workers.

Passing the Torch from One Generation to the Next

As employment opportunities arise in manufacturing, companies can bridge the gap between the older generation of workers and its newest employees. Focusing in on how to support employees at any stage in their careers through learning and development opportunities will make strides on the overall employee experience. Whether that’s through dedicating hours within an employee’s schedule specifically for skills training or providing financial support to help workers further their education levels, prioritizing education is a surefire way to kickstart the younger generation’s careers or upskill existing employees for higher level tasks. Hands-on training with printed circuit board design and surface mount technology, along with virtual professional development sessions, are great avenues to set up workers for success.

While focusing on younger workers is key to business longevity, we also must remind ourselves that the manufacturing industry is on track to reach 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030 as baby boomers retire. Throughout this period, which in many ways feels like a passing of the torch, existing employees must pass along their institutional knowledge to the incoming generation. This way, the new batch of workers can bring their innovative ideas into manufacturing jobs, while simultaneously building on the experience and insights that more senior workers shared with them. This integration is important as it ensures a smooth transition from one generation of workers to the next. That’s why companies should encourage baby boomers to transfer their industry know-how to the upcoming generation through mentorship or learning and development sessions. They can do so by emphasizing how much the industry has grown over the course of the past few decades, and how much opportunity there is for growth over the next couple of decades.

Moving the industry forward

In the past, manufacturing did not seem like the most future forward industry, but we’re in an exciting time where the next generation of the workforce will change that narrative. However, that can’t happen without the proper education, outreach, and training. If we bring baseline training and education opportunities to younger workers, they can take that knowledge and spin it into something that will continue to drive the industry forward, keeping processes fresh and challenging the status quo. But this will only happen if manufacturers prioritize their employees — both future and existing — by giving them as much knowledge as possible.