The manufacturing industry is one of the main customers for automation providers. And that will not change anytime soon. According to a new 2018 skills gap study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, the widening manufacturing skills gap is expected to grow from about 488,000 jobs left open today to as many as 2.4 million manufacturing jobs going unfilled between this year and 2028. That is compared to 2 million jobs between 2015 and 2025 per an earlier study.
This workforce crisis, the study found, could put at risk $454 billion in manufacturing GDP in 2028 – or more than $2.5 trillion over the next decade. See Figure 3 above for more details.
“Manufacturers in the United States are experiencing some of the highest levels of growth we’ve seen in decades, yet the industry seems unable to keep up with the resulting rebound in job growth,” said Paul Wellener, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, and U.S. industrial products and construction leader. “With nearly 2 million vacant new jobs expected by 2028, compounded by 2.69 million vacancies from retiring workers, the number of open positions could be greater than ever and might pose not only a major challenge for manufacturers but may threaten the vitality of the industry and our economy.”
There are a variety of factors behind this workforce shortage, of course, including having the wrong perception about what modern manufacturing looks like. However, five out of 10 open positions for skilled workers in the U.S. manufacturing industry remain unoccupied today due to the skills gap crisis. These positions require specific training or skillsets and often take months to fill.
“While the manufacturing industry today is thriving and optimistic, the sector’s workforce crisis seems to be casting a dark cloud over the future,” said Carolyn Lee, executive director of The Manufacturing Institute. “About 73 percent of manufacturers cite this crisis as their top concern according to the NAM’s latest ‘Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey,’ and The Manufacturing Institute’s new study with Deloitte only underlines the urgency of taking on and solving this challenge.”
To address the skills shortage, companies are trying new things to attract and retain employees, such as allowing nonproduction work to be done from remote locations or adopting broader HR policies. When it comes to production-focused positions, automation is becoming increasingly important in light of the skills gap challenge.
According to the study, 26 percent of manufacturers are investing in productivity-enhancing technologies and nearly 60 percent said they also plan to rely more on automation over the next three years. This is often part of an overall strategy to help to alleviate the industry’s serious and continuing struggles in finding talent.
Initially thought to present a danger to human jobs, many manufacturers are now turning to automation to supplement the low-skilled jobs they cannot fill and focus their existing workers on jobs that are either higher-skilled or require uniquely human skills. Nearly half of the executives surveyed have implemented automation – robots, cobots, machine learning, or AI – in the past three years. And one in three of these manufacturers is supplementing their current workforce with automation, often for repetitive tasks. Further, 64 percent of these executives found that automation helped them overcome some of the challenges they are facing in filling open jobs with qualified talent.
Manufacturing executives who responded to the survey stated the top five skill sets that could increase significantly in the coming three years due to the influx of automation and advanced technologies are: technology/computer skills, digital skills, programming skills for robots/ automation, working with tools and technology, and critical thinking skills.
The influx of automation in manufacturing continues to disrupt all aspects of operations. It can be found in the form of robotic arms on production lines, cobots that assist humans in manual tasks, autonomous mobile robots for materials handling and more. In its future of jobs report, the World Economic Forum said by 2022 machines and algorithms will contribute 42 percent of total task hours, compared to 29 percent in 2018.