Skip to Content

The Hunt for Qualified Workers

Employers have 300,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs.
September 16, 2014

Worried that U.S. workers are ill-­prepared to work with new manufacturing technologies like 3-D printing and robotics, President Barack Obama has plans for a national program that over the next 10 years would build 45 hubs where manufacturing companies, community colleges, universities, and government agencies can prepare workers for the factories of the future.

The program underlines a growing concern that gaps in workers’ skills will hinder the current renaissance of American manufacturing. Although employment in the U.S. manufacturing sector dropped steadily from 2000 to 2010, manufacturing has added 646,000 net new jobs over the past four years, according to White House figures.

Though many firms are hiring, as of late June, 302,000 manufacturing job openings were unfilled, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A skills shortage could grow more acute in the next few years. The Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2020, the United States could face a shortfall of 875,000 highly skilled welders, machinists, machine mechanics, and industrial engineers.

The skills gap seems to be confined to a minority of smaller companies that require specialized skills, according to a 2013 report by MIT’s Production in the Innovation Economy study. The problem is not as pervasive as one might think given how much attention it has received, says Paul Osterman, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and a member of the commission that conducted the study.

Many of the specialized jobs that manufacturers are having the hardest time filling today involve conventional manufacturing tasks. Pipe fitters, mechanical engineering technicians, welders, machinists, electronics assemblers, and operators of computer-numeric-controlled machines are among the most needed workers identified in surveys conducted by the Manufacturing Institute, a nonprofit research affiliate of the Washington, D.C.–based trade association the National Association of Manufacturers.

As workers retire, it’s becoming harder to find people with these traditional skills, says Ben Dollar, a principal in Deloitte Consulting’s manufacturing practice.

For a smaller number of companies, the priority is getting workers up to speed on the skills they’ll need in tomorrow’s factories. In the last 18 months Siemens USA has donated more than $3 billion worth of manufacturing software to colleges in a bid to help train the next generation of advanced manufacturing workers.

Siemens itself plans to hire 7,000 more people in the U.S. by 2020. Their positions will be related to IT, software development, software engineering, and computer science, says Siemens USA CEO Eric Spiegel. “The digital world is coming, and it’s coming very fast,” he says. “There will be jobs. People may not count those jobs in IT and software development as manufacturing jobs, but they really are related to manufacturing.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Image of workers inspecting solar panels at a renewable energy plant
Image of workers inspecting solar panels at a renewable energy plant

Renewables are set to soar

The world will likely witness a wind and solar boom over the next five years, as costs decline and nations raise their climate ambitions.

light and shadow on floor
light and shadow on floor

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation

The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.

wet market selling fish
wet market selling fish

This scientist now believes covid started in Wuhan’s wet market. Here’s why.

How a veteran virologist found fresh evidence to back up the theory that covid jumped from animals to humans in a notorious Chinese market—rather than emerged from a lab leak.

travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

We won’t know how bad omicron is for another month

Gene sequencing gave an early alert about the latest covid variant. But we'll only know if omicron is a problem by watching it spread.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.