By now, everyone knows the story.
Offshoring, automation, and a Great Recession struck at the core of American manufacturing in a way that the country had never before experienced, with each bringing their own impacts and adversity. Yet less than a decade later, manufacturing in America has seemingly found its footing again. Reports suggest manufacturing jobs are growing at the fastest rate in over 23 years—a welcome trend to many in economic development circles.
However, the effects of the previous downturn have not been completely erased, and one critical issue looms above all others: Workforce.
Labor is top of mind for so many employers and a true nation-wide challenge—and this talent deficit grows by the year. National unemployment is currently hovering at just four percent, but on the horizon (by 2029) sits roughly 3,384,280 retirements in advanced manufacturing, accounting for over 26 percent of all jobs within the sector, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. As high school students are continually pushed toward four-year college classrooms rather than technical schools, this gap shows no signs of lessening.
The reality is now a labor pinch in the advanced manufacturing sector that is quickly heading toward an ominous inflection point. So who is doing something about this and what regions and companies are proactively addressing the shortage issue? The answer to that question may very well shape the modern U.S. geographic economy for years to come.
Different regions across America are implementing new initiatives to fill the pipeline of skilled and available advanced manufacturing talent. Companies themselves are increasing benefits to become more attractive employers. They are also offering more on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.
Here are several creative solutions to the skilled workforce problem are already being deployed across several different regions:
Northland Workforce Training Center – Buffalo, New York
In Buffalo, a region with a legacy of advanced manufacturing and innovation successes and a looming retirement cliff like many regions across the country, the Northland Workforce Training Center (NWTC) recently opened to help backfill the skilled workforce pipeline.
NWTC has a goal of training and graduating 300-400 students every year in advanced manufacturing and energy sectors. Programs include mechatronics, welding technology, electrical construction, machine tooling, energy utility, and CNC precision machining.
Each graduate the NWTC trains will have an estimated annual economic impact of $200,000. At 300 graduates per year, the NWTC is projected to have a $3.3 billion economic impact over just a 10-year period. A strong return by any measure on the $65 million invested into the NWTC.
The project is a public-private partnership, including direct company input to curriculum and equipment investments.
“We’re able to provide customized training programs for incoming companies, we’re able to modify curriculum based on their input, as well as allow them to have influence on the equipment that we purchase and train our workers on,” said Stephen Tucker, executive director at NWTC.
Michigan Advanced Technician Training Program – Michigan
The Michigan Advanced Technician Training Program (MAT2) is an industry-driven and collaborative approach to workforce development. MAT2 addresses both the widening skills gap and aging workforce through an apprenticeship program that splits time between classroom and on-the-job training.
MAT2 targets specific subsectors within advanced manufacturing, training students in 3D modeling, computer simulations, software development, and more. Students participate in a tuition-free three-year career pathway.
Manufacturing Skills Institute – Virginia
The Manufacturing Skills Institute (MSI) provides skilled training and certificate programs for careers in advanced manufacturing. The program allows education and industry to collaborate to set new skill standards, offerings, and ensure career advancement following student graduation.
MSI does not ignore the automation wave that has taken over the manufacturing industry in recent years. Instead, the program leans into automation, training students to work within the new processes of manufacturers to compliment automation. MSI emphasizes the advanced in advanced manufacturing.
The Path Forward
There are no magic potions or quick and easy answers to the workforce crunch continuing to hit the manufacturing industry. The only sustainable solutions are both creative and macroscopic.
These programs, and others across the country, are taking that approach—and America needs more of them: