Despite growth and optimism in the sector, a looming workforce crisis casts a dark shadow.

National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) released the results of their Outlook Survey earlier this month, and while optimism was high among the 718 manufacturers of all sizes who responded, there was one over-riding concern: the possibility of a “full-blown workforce crisis.” Solving the problem before it reaches “full-blown crisis” mode is imperative for maximizing the potential created by growth in the manufacturing industry.

The Roots of the Crisis

The shortage of skilled laborers in manufacturing is, in many ways, a direct result of the sector’s success over the past year. September 2018 showed a 3.5 percent increase in output from the year prior and the NAM report shows that 92.5 percent of those surveyed anticipate positive developments for their company while 58 percent anticipate they will be hiring more workers over the next year.

A skills-gap issue has already hit manufacturing, but as the industry continues to expand and unemployment remains low, the problem is exacerbated. Meanwhile, manufacturing finds itself competing for the best employees with a lot of other sectors in the supply chain, shrinking the pool of qualified applicants and increasing wages. As a result, 28.4 percent of the companies in NAM’s survey claimed they had to turn down new business because of a shortage of workers.

Possible Solutions

Turning down work is the last thing a business of any size wants to do, so filling the estimated 500,000 available manufacturing jobs is a must. One of the simplest ways to increase the amount of skilled workers is by training existing employees. Upskilling workers who are already successful provides them with upward mobility, inspiring them to stay on staff while also freeing up entry-level jobs for less skilled workers.

Outreach programs and vocational education takes a bit more effort but is ultimately rewarding. Developing training programs at high schools and community colleges attracts a new generation of workers who may not have even considered a career in manufacturing. These students are shown that they can make a good living by learning the right skills and are eventually ready to enter the workforce highly skilled.

Veteran hiring programs are another potential source of qualified employees. In August 2018, the veteran unemployment rate was 3.8 percent, meaning there is an abundance of workers ready to learn new skills who are more than deserving of a chance. Set a budget, develop a strategy, find skilled workers, and get the satisfaction of giving back to those who served the country.

A Brighter Future

Surely, having such a successful year that there aren’t enough workers to fuel expansion isn’t the worst problem an industry could have but impediments on growth is problematic. By using some creative thinking in the hiring and recruiting process, those in the manufacturing industry could be headed for an even more successful 2019.