Posted on 3/23/2016

Collaboration is key to closing the manufacturing skills gap

Karol Friedman

America’s skills gap challenge in the manufacturing sector has been well documented. We all know that there is a shortage of young skilled trade workers in the talent pipeline, and because of our strong manufacturing base here in Michigan, we should be at the forefront of facing this challenge head on and solving the problem at hand. 

At Automation Alley, we believe strongly that collaboration breeds success. And we believe that collaboration is the key to closing the manufacturing skills gap. 

The skilled trade workers — the welders, electricians and machinists of the world that are so prevalent in manufacturing and construction — have a bad reputation because they evoke an old, outdated image of dirty floors and greasy hands. Workers employed in these jobs are currently in the 50-plus age range, ready for retirement with no one to replace them. And for the younger generation, many had a family member that was affected negatively by the auto company bankruptcies. The result: education and training programs going unfilled.  

Here are three ways government, education and industry can work together to solve this problem:

  1. Awareness: Most parents and some teachers are not informed about the value of skilled trades. They don’t understand the work, the pay, or the career progression.  College degrees with debt are still more “valued” than education and a job that pays well. The creation of more internship programs is a viable way for companies to fill the gaps and students to learn more about the work.  
  2. Relevance: STEM education must be made relevant to students, why learn algebra and physics?  Where is it used? Teachers need to entice their students in their understanding of skilled trades. Teachers could spend their summers serving in industry as interns so they can teach what is current.
  3. Commitment: Ongoing training has to be a commitment by the employer and the employee – things are changing too quickly to forgo the investment in your workforce. Companies and educators must talk to one another. They can continue the conversation by participating in community outreach like Automation Alley’s Education and Workforce Committee. Also, Boomers are retiring at an accelerated rate and companies need to figure out how to transfer their knowledge – have them train new employees, keep them on board as mentors, or even pay them to return after retirement in a capacity that adds value.

Michigan’s workforce has time and time again proven its ability to innovate and adapt. Filling the manufacturing skills gap is no easy task, but by working together, we can get that much closer.

About the Author

Karol Friedman | Automation Alley

Karol Friedman is the director of talent development at Automation Alley and is responsible for overseeing all workforce development initiatives on behalf of the organization. She also leads Automation Alley’s Education and Workforce Committee and all training initiatives for Automation Alley’s Technology Center at Oakland University. 


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