Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Business Report

The Hunt for Qualified Workers

Employers have 300,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs.

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.

This story is part of our November/December 2014 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

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.”

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Business Impact
Breakthrough Factories

How technology advances are changing the economy and providing new opportunities in many industries.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.