Eyes on the future: Will manufacturing jobs be coveted again?

October 5, 2016
Manufacturing Day is coming up Friday, Oct 7, to celebrate modern manufacturing. As part of the tribute, we are focusing this week’s blog posts on the heritage of progress in the manufacturing industry and its future of innovation and transformation. Today, our focus is on the future of manufacturing jobs.

Manufacturing Day provides a good opportunity for those in the industry—and those on the outside looking in—to pause and envision the future. What image of modern manufacturing are we aspiring to achieve? If the industry as a whole can endeavor toward a common goal, chances of success improve exponentially. With the dramatic rate of change, though, the vision of tomorrow may be somewhat chaotic and confused. Can any of us say which disruptive technologies and digitalization concepts will be the ultimate foundation of the future?

manufacturing-men-working-factory-machinery_istock_newsfeed_614x261While we can predict trends and even forecast potential return on investment of new initiatives, like Internet of Things projects, many variables get in the way of crafting a vision of the future. One of the major unknowns is the skills gap and difficulty recruiting a right-skilled workforce. Industry pundits have been warning of the impact of retiring baby boomers for years, and the resolution still seems nebulous.

Experts predict that, over the next decade, nearly 3½ million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, and 2 million are expected to go unfilled. Lack of right-skilled workers is just part of the problem. Misconceptions about manufacturing are also keeping applicants away. A recent poll conducted by the Foundation of Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, says 52 percent of all teenagers report no interest in a manufacturing career, calling manufacturing “a dirty, dangerous place that requires little thinking or skill from its workers and offers minimal opportunity for personal growth or career advancement.” Another study conducted by Deloitte and National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) found that only 37 percent of respondents indicated they would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.

Manufacturing Day was started in 2012 by NAM to counteract those misconceptions and encourage young people to once again consider jobs in manufacturing. The hope is that opening doors for plant tours and generating media attention on the many positive aspects of the industry will help resolve misconceptions and the general population’s lackluster confidence in US manufacturing.

As future-focused, tech-savvy manufacturers turn to digitalization and other disruptive technologies as a strategy for remaining competitive, the right workforce becomes essential. Digitalization means new, out-of-the-box thinking is required. New thinking from new talent is the best hope manufacturing has for growth through digitalization. The opportunity is there if manufacturers can seize the vision and monetize service and data. To build these strategies, manufacturers need creative thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, team builders, inspiring innovators, and motivating leaders. They need an open mind. And a strategy.

Infor is taking many steps to help manufacturers on this journey to the next generation. We sponsor research, fund analysis on educational topics, and create case studies. This library of knowledge we share stresses the vast opportunities for improving performance and profitability. We explain how and why. We talk about issues. We know if manufacturers succeed, we will too. So, we act as a manufacturing advocate, supporting efforts like Manufacturing Day.

Infor also has created the Education Alliance Program. The program is designed to build on the value of a classroom education by providing students and faculty with access to real-world business tools, and projects that encourage them to engage in critical thinking and problem solving. The intent is to give both technology and business students a competitive edge as they pursue career opportunities, and provide an experiential understanding of the interaction among various departments—how IT supports business management, and how business needs define IT projects, for example—so they can better prepare for the future.
“The Education Alliance Program strives to provide students with opportunities to gain hands-on experiences, demonstrate and strengthen critical thinking skills, and ultimately thrive in the workplace.

We are successful when hiring companies (including Infor) can report back to our alliance members that the students they’ve employed require less training and are delivering value from their first day on the job,” says Martine Cadet, Education Alliance Program director.

So far, 18 institutions are participating and over 1,400 students have participated in courses Infor supported with software and course work.

Manufacturing is definitely on the come-back road. While the jobs that were part of manufacturing’s golden era are gone, and gone for good, there are new jobs and new concepts on the horizon. Digitalization is not just hype. The total integration of enterprises, data-driven decision making, and Internet of Things technologies are going to put in motion a bottom-to-top reinvention of processes.

As part of the ongoing efforts to address the skill gaps issues, NAM and its foundation, Manufacturing Institute, are also spearheading some interesting programs to attract recruits from specific demographics, such as returning veterans and women in technology. Its STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production) Ahead initiative mentors women while also leading research efforts tackling this important topic.

As future-focused, tech-savvy manufacturers turn to digitalization and other disruptive technologies as a strategy for remaining competitive, the right workforce becomes essential. Digitalization means new, out-of-the-box thinking that companies like Uber, Netflix, and Travelocity have employed to invent totally new ways of approaching a need and generating revenue. To build these strategies, manufacturers need creative thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, team builders, inspiring innovators, and motivating leaders.

They also need the story tellers and artists, the classic liberal arts students who, traditionally, would have never taken a single “shop class” or considered a career in manufacturing. These young, creative individuals may be the future of manufacturing. They may be the start of a new generation of the manufacturing workforce.
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