Report: Skills gap top issue for manufacturers

The economic recovery has done a lot to spur the U.S. manufacturing industry back into pre-recession form. Of the many factors contributing to the resurgence, increased production, demand and new orders have all played large roles. Manufacturing firms have also seen employment trend up. However, when setting their sights on the long term, many manufacturers are staring down an oncoming skills gap. With talent at a premium and future success at stake, manufacturing recruiters can provide an invaluable service to businesses tackling the widening skills gap.

Talent gap not new, but worsening
According to the most recent data on the manufacturing skills gap from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 67 percent of surveyed manufacturers reported a moderate to severe shortage of talented workers. While researchers said this number is consistent with previous findings, the report cautioned the existing skills gap could become a larger problem down the road. Fifty-six percent of respondents expected the shortage to be exacerbated in the next three to five years.

The search for qualified talent is especially confounding for manufacturers looking to hire skilled production workers. When asked to describe the talent situation in regard to skilled production positions, which include machinists, operators, craft workers, distributors and technicians, 38 percent said the skills gap was moderate, and 45 percent said it was severe. When asked to consider their prospects five years down the line, 69 percent forecasted a moderate skills gap in skilled production.

Another key insight from the report is the reliance of manufacturers on “word of mouth” when seeking new hires. Fifty-two percent said they depended on word of mouth in talent searches. However, many companies might be hampering their efforts by “depending on outdated, informal methods,” according to skills gap researchers. Only 18 percent said they consulted with external firms like manufacturing recruiters.

Aging workforce among concerns

As cited by Harold Sirkin in a Bloomberg Bussinessweek blog, the average age of skilled U.S. manufacturing employees is 56. The age of the American workforce has been identified as one of the key underlying factors leading to the future talent gap. As Generation X and millennial workers are expected to replace baby boomers, it may be an ideal time for manufacturers to start identifying the best young talent to stay ahead of the curve.

Meanwhile, manufacturers should take note of the risks associated with hiring young workers. Jennifer Schramm, manager of Workplace Trends at the Society for Human Resource Management, told Bloomberg BNA the amount of available talent in the Gen X pool is smaller than the number of older skilled workers that are currently at work. Schramm also noted millennial workers may not be skilled or matured enough. To help understand the talent situation, businesses can work with manufacturing recruiters to ensure every avenue of talent acquisition is explored.