Three Ways Manufacturing Can Fix Its People Problem

By: Josh Ray and Alex Allison

Every October, thousands of U.S. manufacturers open their doors for Manufacturing Day, hosting tours and demonstrations in hopes of sparking interest in manufacturing careers. It’s a fantastic effort, and one that’s sorely needed.

But manufacturers shouldn’t assume a one-day-a-year event is enough to fix the intractable talent shortage they’ve faced for decades—a problem that’s about to get a lot worse.

Deloitte estimates the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs will skyrocket as 2.7 million workers from the Great and Boomer generations retire through 2025. By then, 3.4 million new manufacturing workers could be needed.

Meanwhile, the U.S. labor force is shrinking, and growing industries like technology services and entertainment beckon as more innovative and exciting alternatives to manufacturing jobs.

This is the vise that’s been squeezing the flow of fresh faces to manufacturing for years.

The good news is that it really is an exciting time to work in manufacturing. Emerging technologies like advanced robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), generative design and additive manufacturing are commonplace in modern factories.

The real question the manufacturing community needs to answer is: Why don’t more people want to work for us?

We’ve observed three ways manufacturers could change to become more attractive places to work.

1. Be more engaged with the next workforce. Research suggests that manufacturers haven’t made meaningful efforts to truly engage incoming workers and discover what’s important to them. Almost half of manufacturers—46 percent—think Millennials see manufacturing as blue-collar work they want nothing to do with, and 43 percent believe Millennials lack the ethics and discipline to succeed.

At the same time, 78 percent of Millennials say they are strongly influenced by how innovative a company is perceived to be in the marketplace; and 63 percent believe the biggest barriers to innovation are management attitudes.

Engaging the Millennial generation is not optional, as they will make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020, and the two things most important to them in an employer are community involvement and company values.

The takeaway from these findings is that manufacturers are losing the labor battle because many of them have not evolved their cultures to match modern-day workplace expectations, such as:

• Authentic communication
• Decentralized and agile work environments
• Accessible and engaged leadership
• Empowerment to drive change

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2. Prioritize ongoing investment in the latest manufacturing technology. Next-generation workers want modern applications that work as seamlessly and intuitively as consumer applications, but can also support widespread collaboration and new discovery: new knowledge, a better process, or a new product or service. They expect an innovative culture.

Micro Systems Engineering Inc. (MSEI) has such a culture, and its willingness to embrace new technology shows it. The company manufactures electronic modules for Class III life-sustaining medical devices, such as the BITRONIK defibrillator.

The company had made significant advances automating its manufacturing process to meet the precision and quality requirements for this type of device, but paper processes remained, and they were inhibiting growth opportunities.

An investment in a manufacturing execution system (MES) made specifically for the medical device industry (Camstar Medical Device Suite) solved the problem. In fact, now the company produces four times the number of products with fewer employees actually touching materials.

“Our products are completely different, with an immense increase in complexity and output that we’re able to manage with the same headcount,” says Juergen Linder, general manager at MSEI. “If you do the math, it speaks for itself.”

Technology that helps people accomplish work faster, better and with fewer steps/tasks is exactly what the modern workforce desires. After all, consumer software has trained us to be able to accomplish our immediate goals with ease and satisfaction.

An article in Inc. that explains what companies need to do to attract Generation Z as buyers and employees sums it up this way:

“Generation Z has little to no impatience for things that don’t work as intended …Gen Zers want to use technology that is cutting-edge and as efficient as any of the other applications they use on a daily (or hourly) basis.”

3. Partner with technology leaders, higher-education institutions and industry events. These partnerships can help manufacturers identify where and how they need to change; find high-skill workers with knowledge of cutting-edge technologies and practices; and give existing employees opportunities to participate in innovative projects and new learnings.

For example, in the GM EcoCar project, the venerable automaker worked in conjunction with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to find job candidates for its advanced vehicle programs. In another program, Siemens partnered with BRIDG, a semiconductor manufacturer, to develop digital twin technology for semiconductor production.

“The digital twin project is a perfect example of the type of catalyst the BRIDG public/private partnership creates, one that drives many direct and indirect positions across the high-tech and support services industry,” says BRIDG spokesperson Gloria LeQuang.

Of course, Manufacturing Day continues to be an excellent way to educate potential job prospects about opportunities in manufacturing. The 2016 event drew over of 595,000 participants, and more than half of those were students. According to a post-event survey of participants:

• 89 percent are more aware of manufacturing jobs in their communities.
• 84 percent are more convinced that manufacturing provides interesting and rewarding careers.
• 64 percent are more motivated to pursue careers in manufacturing.
• 71 percent are more likely to tell friends, family, parents or colleagues about manufacturing.

These are promising numbers and something to build on. Those of us in manufacturing know that Industry 4.0 and emerging technologies are changing how products are designed, sourced, produced and delivered.

Now’s the time to fix the people problem by becoming more engaged with the workforce and aligned to their expectations for success and fulfillment.

This concludes part one of our series on the future of manufacturing. In part two, we discuss the ways in which manufacturers need to attract a stable workforce and the smartest people they can find

About the authors
Josh Ray is an account development executive for Siemens PLM Software. He began his career in the manufacturing software organization. Josh is passionate about people and technology, and his current role is to support business development in the industrial machinery and medical device industries. Josh works with companies to increase awareness and adoption of technologies across their innovation and product lifecycle. He regularly engages with C-level executives in this role, which inspires his drive to gain a deeper understanding of industry trends and the obstacles companies currently face.

Alex Allison is an account orchestrator with Siemens PLM Software and has been with the company since 2013. In his current role, he is responsible for maintaining relationships with electronics and high-tech companies on the Eastern seaboard. Alex began his career in the semiconductor industry, specializing in manufacturing systems. He has experience around OCM, managing complex enterprise system architecture, and ensuring customers have the right solutions and processes that will result in transformational efficiencies throughout their business.

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