November 13, 2022

Lifting All Boats to Close the Manufacturing Employment Gap

Manufacturers in an area can adopt the military recruiter model as a "rising tide that lifts all boats" to close some of the projected 2.1 million manufacturing jobs gap in 2030. Those in the industry understand how meaningful and fulfilling a career in manufacturing can be. Furthermore, our country's well-being may depend on getting our younger generations excited about working in this industry.
Continuing Our Exploration

Last week I introduced the concept of adopting the military recruiter model to manufacturing recruitment.  The recommendation would be to work collectively as manufacturers in an area to use the "rising tide lifts all boats" analogy to close some of the 2.1 million manufacturing jobs projected to go unfilled by 2030 for this sector.  Those in the industry understand how meaningful and fulfilling a career in manufacturing can be for those doing this essential work.  We need to work together to help others understand the benefits of a manufacturing career and its importance to our collective well-being.

The Toilet Paper Shortage

The COVID-19 pandemic brought home some perceived realities of outsourcing our manufacturing operations to other countries.  In March 2020, in the earliest days of the pandemic, panic-buying set in as people became fearful of a toilet paper shortage.  At this point, it was too early for the supply chain to run out, but customers anticipated we would soon be without this precious item.  I still remember seeing a man leaving a chain store with packages of toilet paper heaped over the top of his cart.  On April 9th, half of the grocery stores in the United States (US) had none of this commodity on the shelf.  

A More Serious Issue

While running out of toilet paper would not be a life or death situation, a shortage of pharmaceuticals would be this reality.  For example, a Department of Commerce study during the Trump administration found that we purchase 97% of our antibiotics from China.  In addition, we currently buy 80% of our active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) used to produce drugs, primarily from China and India.  We even have a National Drug Shortage Day each September 8th that highlights the ongoing shortfall of essential medications in the US.  These are just a few examples of the negative impact we are or could experience with a significant dependence on products manufactured abroad, particularly by nations potentially willing to harm us.

No country is ever successful in the long term... without a really strong and vibrant manufacturing base.—Alan Mullaly
Creating Positive Perceptions of the Manufacturing Industry

A study by Deloitte, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Manufacturing Institute found that 8 in 10 Americans see manufacturing as vital to the future of the US.  Manufacturing is essential in creating new jobs and maintaining a robust national economy.  Gen Xers and their parents saw it as the most preferred US job-creation engine for Americans familiar with the sector.  Those in public without industry experience responded at 64% that manufacturing was high-tech and 55% globally competitive.  Only 3 of 10 Americans without industry knowledge would encourage their children to work in this industry.  However, the number doubled for those with industry knowledge.  The public perception is that US manufacturing will grow stronger, require higher technical skills (88%), provide a cleaner and safer setting (81%), and require expanded industry awareness.  Those who value the industry should embrace becoming fervent champions in selling the many benefits of a manufacturing career to all who will listen.

Funding the Project

The manufacturing industry recruiter position could be funded by a collective of manufacturing plants in the area or government grants.  In addition, the recruiter would work with the various area key players in the community.  For example, the recruiter would attend job and career fairs to meet potential employees.  They could also develop relationships with the local K-12 and higher education schools to provide further insight regarding the value of a manufacturing career for all students.  These are just a few examples of the work the recruiter could be actively doing to promote the benefits of work in the sector.  

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The Merck & Co Inc Project

Merck & Co Inc in Elkton, VA, met with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership in 2018 to share initial plans for vaccine production at one of three potential sites.  In addition, a Merck team met with various state, regional, and local development groups to discuss its workforce gaps.  Merck then met with a group that included Blue Ridge Community College and James Madison University, eventually implementing a custom workforce solution partnership.  A successful collaboration that led to positive results through a collection of like-minded players working together to solve a workplace gap issue.  The benefit was the addition of 100 new high-wage jobs and a billion dollars of capital expenditure in the area.  A $2.5 million five-year special appropriation from the Virginia General Assembly provided the financial support.  While the project is not a complete match to the recruiter model, the essential aspect of the initiative's success was the assignment of a Regional Manufacturing Liaison.  The person was responsible for keeping the partners aligned on achieving eventual success in meeting the workforce needs of Merck.

Creating a Multi-Option Approach

Like recruiters working to fill the needs of the various service branches and academies, the manufacturing sector should create different recruitment profiles.  These could include short-term employees who, for various reasons, would not plan to continue in the industry as a career.  Another profile could be those that, like the military, accept an opportunity to receive a unique training opportunity in exchange for a multi-year employment commitment.  A program that takes interested students from regular classes to additional training in the manufacturing industry to place them directly on a fast track to high-paying jobs after graduation.  Those interested in an industry career may follow technician or engineering tracks.  Finally, those with managerial and leadership potential would follow an industry executive track like the military service academies.  

Key Takeaway

Manufacturers in an area can adopt the military recruiter model as a "rising tide that lifts all boats" to close some of the projected 2.1 million manufacturing jobs gap in 2030.  Those in the industry understand how meaningful and fulfilling a career in manufacturing can be.  Furthermore, our country's well-being may depend on getting our younger generations excited about working in this industry.

First Step

Individuals interested in gaining a deeper understanding of how to create a beneficial perception of the manufacturing industry can read A look ahead: How modern manufacturers can create positive perceptions with the US public study by Deloitte and the National Association of Manufacturers.  They suggest investing in programs to develop requisite skills, raising awareness of the benefits of a manufacturing career, and ways to achieve robust recruiting objectives and brand ambassadors.

My Gratitude

I am grateful to organizations like Deloitte and the National Association of Manufacturers that proactively explore ways to ensure American prosperity by strengthening the manufacturing industry.  Our American standard of living and national security requires us to rebuild a once substantial national manufacturing base.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will further explore adopting the Network2Work model to fill some of the growing manufacturing employment gap.    

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Cover Image Credit: Christina Morillo on Pexels

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