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As the manufacturing sector continues to grow over the next decade, up to 3.8 million new jobs will need to be filled. Where will employers find the skilled labor?

Norbert Sparrow

April 3, 2024

3 Min Read
man and woman looking at tablet in manufacturing environment
Gorodenkoff/iStock via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • US manufacturing growth fueled by government incentives and supply-chain risk mitigation
  • Skills gap and tight labor market present obstacles to continued growth
  • Manufacturers think outside the box to develop pipeline of skilled labor

First, the good news: US manufacturing has been on a strong growth trajectory since the end of the pandemic, and the rebound is projected to continue over the next 10 years. As many as 3.8 million jobs will need to be filled between 2024 and 2033. The bad news? The skills gap and a tight labor market may leave as many as half of those positions — 1.9 million jobs — unfilled.

Those projections come from a new report published by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, “Taking charge: Manufacturers support growth with active workforce strategies.” Consider it a wake-up call.

Invest in up-skilling workforce to cement growth

"The manufacturing industry is facing exponential opportunity,” commented Deloitte Principle John Coykendall, vice chair, US industrial products construction leader. “Developing talent — both from within the existing employee base and those newly entering the workforce — is important to keeping up with the pace of continued innovation. Companies who invest in up-skilling the workforce through training, technology, and policies that meet employee expectations are well-positioned for future growth,” stressed Coykendall.

The report notes that the renaissance of US manufacturing is fueled by government policies and incentives, the need to satisfy evolving customer demands, and mitigating risk caused by far-flung supply chains. Meeting that challenge requires a large labor pool, and specifically a workforce with the skills that advanced manufacturing requires. That gap is one of the things keeping employers up at night.

Related:Talent Talk: The Coming Manufacturing Gold Rush

Attracting and retaining talent a fundamental challenge

“Filling open positions — and keeping them filled — is a top concern for many manufacturers: 65% of respondents in the National Association of Manufacturers' 2024 Q1 outlook pointed to attracting and retaining talent as their primary business challenge,” said the report. As retiring baby boomers are replaced by millennials and Gen Z workers, workplace expectations are shifting, the report adds. Flexible work schedules are a key concern for younger employees, along with the opportunity to acquire skills that will advance their careers.

None of this will come as a surprise to readers of Paul Sturgeon’s Talent Talk column in PlasticsToday. The CEO of recruitment firm KLA Industries often calls attention to employee retention issues. Commenting on the Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute report, Sturgeon said, "The cold, hard reality for the plastics industry is that there will be winners and losers in the war for talent over the next decade or so. I encourage our clients to hire proactively, if possible. If you wait until a critical role is open, it could take many months, or even a year to find the right person.”

What skills are in demand?

Applicants with digital skills will be in the front of the line for career opportunities in manufacturing. Analysis conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute reportedly shows a 75% increase in demand for simulation and related software skills. The report also notes that:

  • Industrial machinery maintenance positions could grow as much as 16% by 2032, while mechanical and industrial engineering jobs could expand by almost 11% over the same period.

  • Roles like statisticians, data scientists, engineers, logisticians, computer and information systems managers, software developers, and industrial maintenance technicians are likely to grow at the fastest pace through 2032.

  • The fastest growing production positions are likely to be those that require higher-level skill sets like semiconductor processing technicians, machinists, first-line supervisors, welders, and electronics and electromechanical assemblers.

To develop a pipeline of skilled labor, manufacturers increasingly are partnering with educational establishments, industry associations, and economic development agencies, according to the report. The most popular avenues for manufacturers, however, are technical colleges and apprenticeships, a formula that has worked well over the decades in Germany.

The report is based on an online survey of more than 200 US manufacturers and analysis from Deloitte’s economic team. It can be downloaded from the Deloitte website.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.

www.linkedin.com/in/norbertsparrow

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