Dealing with the Changing Landscape in the Manufacturing Workforce – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we outlined the transitional and educational challenges that the manufacturing workforce is facing.  We identified two specific tactics to address these challenges:   1) enticing baby boomers to stick around longer; and 2) proactively planning for a changing work culture.  The majority of the manufacturing workforce can retire at any moment.  Many of the potential replacements for these retirees are not projected to enter the manufacturing field.  What else can the manufacturing industry do to combat this employment gap?

Break the Stereotypes

Through history textbooks, media, and conversations with grandparents, today’s young workforce has come to believe that a career in manufacturing is a dirty, unappealing, and unstable career.  Why work with machinery when it has led to diseases early in life?  How would a maintenance job impact my social status?  When will my job be moved overseas or replaced with technology?  These questions are disheartening when, in fact, many manufacturing firms are now pristine, filled with some of the most cutting edge technology of our time, and offer loyal employment.  The social and economical benefits of a career in manufacturing need to be broadcast.  Jobs are returning to the United States amidst the tax reform and economical boost.  Today’s manufacturers need to spread this news, include it in their recruitment, and break the stereotypes.

Develop STEM Skills

Many state governments, including here in New England, have identified STEM skills as critical for the future health of the economy.  In 2018, Real Jobs Rhode Island ( has three partnership programs for the manufacturing industry:

  • Leadership Development Partnership of Rhode Island
  • Phoenix Partnership
  • Rhode Island Manufacturing Growth Collaborative

These partnership programs foster collaboration among manufacturers, universities, and other agencies to train and develop STEM skills in the young workforce.  Local manufacturers have recently turned their attention to high school recruitment.  By expressing interest in teenagers, these manufacturers hope to build up early desires to pursue math and science – two areas of study that have recently seen low scoring.  Manufacturers need to engage the young work force and provide opportunities for training and education.   The development of STEM skills is vital if the industry hopes to maintain a consistent work force supply.

The landscape in manufacturing is definitely changing.  The actions taken by the industry in the next decade will be critical to its health.  There are many great resources available to manufacturing companies – and even more that can be created.  Let us do what we can to build up the next generation with knowledge and experience.