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A Tale of Pessimistic Optimism

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

First the good news, then the bad news. Then some more good news.

First off, manufacturing is booming. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity jumped to 64.7 in March from 60.8 in February—the highest level since December 1983.

Nearly 75 percent of manufacturers and distributors are optimistic about their business prospects in the next six months, according to the April Sikich Industry Pulse Report on manufacturing and distribution. More than half of the respondents are looking to expand their workforce in the next six months.

Now the bad news.

There are 700,000 unfilled jobs in manufacturing in the U.S., up from 500,000 before the pandemic, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. And as many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled through 2030, according to a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. The report warned that the worker shortage will hurt revenue and production, and could cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion by 2030. Manufacturers say it is 36 percent harder to find talent today than in 2018, even though the unemployment rate is much higher today.

Now, another dose of good news.

Manufacturers are responding to the skills gap in many different ways. This issue of Manufacturing Engineering explores several of the ways that manufacturers are developing new talent, working with schools to attract and retain young workers, changing the way apprenticeships are administered and more. Here are some highlights:

In our lead feature on page 38, “Building the Next-Gen Manufacturing Workforce,” we feature commentary from workforce experts on creative strategies to maintain and strengthen the manufacturing workforce. Another feature, “PRIME Pathways to Developing Talent” on page 46, looks at how the Saginaw (Michigan) Independent School District built a unique partnership that is helping students learn manufacturing skills that can translate into job offers.

In his column on page 16, Harry Moser of the Reshoring Initiative explains that while reshoring manufacturing jobs to the U.S. is on the rise, the workforce will need comprehensive training and corresponding skills.

On page 78, our new column, “Workforce Lessons,” explores how Component Repair Technologies is partnering with Tooling U-SME to expand the capabilities of its workforce.

Matthew Winslow of Davis Technical College notes on page 12 that his school’s partnership with Renishaw is helping to teach metrology skills.

And finally, in “Viewpoints” on page 80, Montez King, executive director of NIMS, makes the case for revamping the definitions of apprenticeships to modernize them and make them more relevant to today’s manufacturing jobs.

So, is the skills gap glass half empty or half full? The manufacturing professionals working to build the next-gen workforce would probably say they are just focused on refilling that glass.

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