Building a Workforce for the Next Industrial Revolution

The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, promises to transform manufacturing by digitizing factories to reshape the way things are made. From artificial intelligence and robotics to high-performance computing and the Internet of Things, advanced manufacturing technologies will deliver greater productivity, efficiency and cost-savings. But for many manufacturers, embracing this new reality is fraught with challenges, especially when it comes to finding the talent to make it happen.

Where Are the Workers?

Traditionally, one of the greatest barriers to finding manufacturing talent has been the perception that these are dirty, hard-labor positions with low wages and no advancement opportunities. Younger generations have been warned to avoid “dead-end” factory jobs and instead encouraged to pursue higher education and careers in fields such as finance, engineering or medicine.

Further compounding the talent search challenge is the growing integration of advanced manufacturing technologies. Previously, incoming employees could learn skills such as sorting, assembly and machine operation on the job. But as these functions are replaced by robotic and computer-assisted systems, workers need experience in software and system engineering, data analytics and computer programming. Most candidates seeking entry-level manufacturing positions don’t have these qualifications or the resources to obtain them. And many companies are not equipped to conduct in-house training in these high-tech skillsets.

An Opportunity for Staffing Agencies

A recent survey by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute indicated that 82 percent of executives believe this skills gap will impact their ability to meet customer demand. For staffing agencies, this presents an opportunity to become a critical asset to manufacturing clients by playing a role in bridging the gap. Here are three ways staffing agencies can take a leadership position in meeting the demand for the new manufacturing skillsets:

1. Appeal to a younger generation: Tech-savvy and connected, Gen Z is the next generation to join the workforce. With built-in knowledge about all things digital, they’re already familiar with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, putting them ahead of their predecessors. But many don’t understand the high-tech opportunities available in manufacturing. By working directly with high schools, staffing companies can help students see manufacturing as an opportunity to be part of an exciting industry transformation – and without needing a pricey four-year college degree. As an added perk, many manufacturing companies are willing to finance outside education, training and certifications for motivated employees.

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2. Build community coalitions: When candidates are unskilled or have mismatched skill sets, it puts a burden on employers to either train candidates or leave positions unfilled longer than desired. Staffing companies that work collaboratively in the community can create ongoing workforce training programs. Community colleges, vocational and apprenticeship programs and non-profit organizations are often excellent partners and can help develop training tailored to meet the employment needs of the local manufacturing community. These resources are not only excellent for young students, but for anyone looking to embark on a new career, including veterans and parents returning to work.

3. Bust myths and stereotypes: One of the biggest myths of manufacturing is that jobs are going to disappear because of automation. A recent Reuters story points out that robots actually contributed to new jobs at Amazon due to increased productivity and the need to hire technicians for troubleshooting. And, staffing companies can help dispel stereotypes about life on the plant floor by encouraging manufacturers to open up their facilities to the public for tours and participating in events such as Manufacturing Day, which has been working to shift public perception about manufacturing since it began in 2012.

Ultimately, this approach will create a win-win-win scenario. Local manufacturing companies will obtain workers with the valuable STEM skills needed for the next-gen factory. Candidates will gain the high-tech skills needed to not only land an entry-level position but put themselves on a path to long-term success. And staffing agencies will fulfill their ultimate goal of connecting employers and qualified employees – benefitting all parties as well as their bottom line.

MORE: The challenges of recruiting when unelmployment is low

Jason Schafer

Jason Schafer
Jason Schafer is regional director of BelFlex Staffing Network".

Jason Schafer

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One Response to “Building a Workforce for the Next Industrial Revolution”

  1. James Myers says:

    Great article Jason

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