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The manufacturing industry has always been a hotbed for innovation and advancement — but it relies heavily on the workers who have the skills and training to fill those jobs. Experts have predicted more than 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unoccupied during the next 10 years, as the baby boomer generation starts to retire. How can we help to prepare the industry for the next generation of manufacturers?

Robotic Automation

Automation has already started making its way into the manufacturing industry, but fully robotic automation is definitely the wave of the future. Though they do require a high initial investment, fully automatic manufacturing programs help cut costs, increase profit margins and improve product quality by removing the potential for human error.

Robots don’t eliminate the need for human workers, though — on the contrary, a large number of trained technicians and mechanics will be needed to set up and maintain these new robotic fleets. The lack of trained technicians may be one of the things that has prevented many businesses from heading into an automated future.

Confront the Skills Gap

There is a big skills gap between the baby boomer generation and the gen-Xers and millennials who are heading into the manufacturing industry. It’s difficult to get into an entry-level position in the field now because it requires so much more training and education than it did in the past — and even on-the-job training often isn’t enough anymore.

Automated production floors require specialized training in electronics, robotics, programming and many other skills that might not have traditionally been required for a manufacturing job in the past. Even aspects of the job that were previously manual, such as supply chain management, have been updated to keep up with the digital age and may require more training or even additional training for those already in the positions.

The solution to this problem doesn’t start on the factory floor or even in training — it starts in school. The next generation of manufacturers need to have access to coursework and extracurricular programs that help prepare them for careers in the manufacturing industry. Many of these skills, such as robotics and programming, can also easily transfer to other careers if need be, but the focus should be on preparing new high school and college graduates for manufacturing jobs.

Workers who are currently in the industry should also benefit from learning opportunities — continuing education makes it easier to retain members of your current workforce, while providing them the tools they need to continue being successful in the industry. It also helps promote employee loyalty — if it’s easier to get promoted with a degree, provide your employees with a way to get that degree to give them an equal chance for advancement and promotion within the company.

Refresh the Image to Attract the Next Generation of Manufacturers

The millennial generation isn’t going into manufacturing jobs. Why? This young technical generation doesn’t mind working with their hands, but the manufacturing industry doesn’t appeal to them. It has a fairly negative image of long hours in dirty factories with hard hands-on work for little reward. Anyone who is currently working in the industry knows this isn’t the case anymore, but it can be difficult to shake an image that has been in place for so long.

The solution might not be a new marketing campaign, but students learning new and more accurate information, starting at the high school level. Teach them about the Industrial Revolution, and show them how far the manufacturing industry has come since then. Emphasize STEM — or science, technology, engineering and mathematics — fields and their uses in the ever-changing and constantly advancing field of manufacturing.

Get rid of the old image of the faceless factory worker and replace it with information about what the manufacturing industry is today — technological advancements, automation and software that are changing the way we create things.

The manufacturing industry will continue to grow and change as technology advances, but it will still need people to keep the machines running and to program new ones as they roll off the assembly lines. By preparing new students for careers in the manufacturing industry, and providing continuing education opportunities to those who are already working in the field, we can help reinforce the stability of this ever-changing industry.

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