The Looming Crisis in Manufacturing

Center for Automotive Research | 4/12/2017

Skilled trades workers in the automotive industry build and maintain the machinery and equipment necessary to manufacture automotive parts and components, assemblies and vehicles. Tool, die, mold, jig and fixture (“tool and die”) workers make up a critical segment of these skilled trades workers; without them, cars don’t get made.

Over the last 10-15 years, automotive tool and die has undergone remarkable changes. As the industry shifts towards lightweight materials like aluminum, magnesium, and advanced high-strength steels to reduce weight and meet fuel-economy and greenhouse gas regulations, metals have become more diverse and, in many cases, more challenging to form. Simultaneously, the U.S. tool and die industry has contracted by nearly half, and automotive tooling capacity in low-cost countries has grown – particularly in China.

Skilled trades workers are, on average, several years older than automotive production workers. Turnover and retirement trends affect all trades occupations but tool and die pose a unique challenge for the future. The automotive industry is on the verge of running out of the people who know what needs to be done to make these tools work in tryout and production. Up to 75 percent of the current tool and die workforce at some firms could turn over in the next 5-7 years. It can take 10 or more years to produce a master tool and die maker, and few apprentices were being added in the early years of the automotive recovery. This means that larger firms are hiring from the ranks of smaller firms, and smaller shops must continually recruit and train to backfill the vacancies.

Over the next few years, the steady cadence of new vehicle introductions, combined with the introduction of new materials, new processes, and new technologies, clearly present significant risks to the industry’s ability to execute product launches. The ability of the manufacturing and tooling sectors to respond is hindered by current capacity constraints and a significant shortage of skilled talent. The coming crisis in skilled trades, particularly in tool and die, is only going to get worse. The industry needs to attract young people to careers in the trades, and support training for small firms struggling to retain their workforce in this competitive employment market.

In coordination with several automakers, the Center for Automotive Research has organized the T3 Manufacturing Summit to engage OEMs, suppliers, policymakers, educators, workforce development, and other industry stakeholders in a summit designed to address these challenges, and to find ways to collaboratively pave the way to new opportunities and a successful future for U.S. advanced manufacturing. Learn more about the T3 Manufacturing Summit and explore sessions and speakers from Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, suppliers, government, academics and more here.

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