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Up to 2.4M Manufacturing Jobs May Go Unfilled by 2028, Study Says

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

As many as 2.4 million manufacturing jobs may go unfilled by 2028, putting $454 billion in production at risk, consulting company Deloitte (New York) said.

A lack of skills and “impending retirements” of current workers “suggest the industry could experience employment bottlenecks,” the consulting company said in a report done with the Manufacturing Institute.

The report was based on a survey of 400 U.S. manufacturers. That was supplemented with executive interviews, analysis of data and economic forecasts. The report lists five authors from Deloitte and one from the National Association of Manufacturers, parent organization of the Manufacturing Institute.

Manufacturing “must contend with one of the tightest labor markets in recent history,” Deloitte said. The 2.4 million figure assumes manufacturing employment will average 1.5% growth a year. This year, there were 508,000 open jobs in U.S. manufacturing, according to the report.

Manufacturing has looked to automation as a way to overcome worker shortages. However, the survey indicated that strategy has limits.

Half of respondents said “they have already adopted technologies such as robots, cobots, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI),” according to the report. Cobots, formally known as collaborative robots, are deployed in close proximity to workers unlike traditional robots.

One complication is the Industrial Internet of Things, where “connected” machines communicate with each other and human operators. The “types of skills that employees need to possess are rapidly evolving, and it seems increasingly difficult for the workforce to keep pace,” the consulting company said.

Skills necessary for manufacturing are evolving, according to the report. Automation “could replace many of the manual or repetitive tasks that today’s jobs entail,” Deloitte said.

‘Soft’ Skills

That’s likely to mean manufacturing workers will need so-called “soft” skills such as “critical thinking, creativity and originality” among other qualities, according to the report. “Companies need workers that can demonstrate these skills as well as the digital skills necessary to work alongside automation.”

Deloitte also said traditional supply-and-demand economics won’t help much.

“Though manufacturing companies are ready to pay more to attract and retain talent, they also find skilled workers leaving their organization for higher pay elsewhere,” Deloitte said. Higher pay “might get skilled workers in the door, it does not guarantee they will stay.”

The report said manufacturing “should explore ways to provide exposure to robotics, automation, and computer programming to primary school students.” Deloitte also said manufacturing needs to improve its image and work on “changing workforce perceptions in manufacturing.”

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