Collaborating to build a strong workforce

Friday, April 26, 2019

Advanced technologies such as additive manufacturing/3D printing, automation and robotics, digital manufacturing and lightweighting of materials are revolutionizing the industrial sector, providing incredible opportunities for increased efficiency, improved quality, greater innovation and reduced costs.

As wonderful as these benefits are for the manufacturing industry, new technology adoption presents innumerable challenges – one of the most pressing threats being finding a skilled workforce able to work with sophisticated systems. 

When you pair rapid technology advancements with retirements, a decreased talent pipeline and the need for new, advanced technology skills, the industry is left with an even deeper pool of unskilled talent unable to perform job duties on advanced factory floors.

Despite all the warnings over the last decade about a talent shortage, it may be surprising how few manufacturers have moved to address the skills gap. According to Tooling U-SME’s “Industry Pulse: 2018 Manufacturing Workforce Report,” more than 80 percent of survey respondents say implementing any new technology is going to be at least somewhat challenging. What’s more, the study shows that the challenge of new technology is closely related to the skills gap: 56 percent of respondents say the gap is impacting the introduction of advanced manufacturing technologies and automation; 29 percent indicate it’s affecting the introduction of flexible, complex work systems; and 27 percent say it’s impacting the implementation of smart manufacturing technologies.

And though employers say they are feeling the impact of the workforce shortage, only two out of five say companies are training people to develop the right skills.

Even in the face of these challenges, there is hope. Companies can execute workforce development strategies now to ward off the skills gap threats. Developing a robust onboarding process, instituting a formal training program, encouraging continuing education and properly upskilling those responsible for training workers will help companies maintain a highly-skilled incumbent workforce even as they work to attract new talent to the industry.

Another proven tactic to combatting the skilled workforce shortage is through partnerships with local supporters that have a vested interest in building a fully capable workforce to secure the future of U.S. manufacturing. In states across the country, business leaders, educators, workforce agencies, associations and other manufacturing stakeholders are working together to rethink their approach to retooling the current and future workforce.

At Tooling U-SME, we’re taking serious steps with educators and employers to strengthen these communities and associated workforce.

For instance, as part of our commitment to help educators and employers collaborate, we recently partnered with Polar3D in the 2018-19 General Electric Additive Education Program to support our SME Education Foundation PRIME (Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education) school program, an initiative that provides opportunities for 9-12 grade students to develop industry-relevant knowledge and advanced manufacturing skills before they graduate from high school.

Geared toward primary and secondary schools, the GE Additive Education Program introduces students to additive manufacturing by allowing them to learn and train with equipment that is powering the future of manufacturing — in this case, a Dremel DigiLab 3D45 3D printer.

Students at SME PRIME high schools across the nation were among participants around the world selected to take part in the General Electric Additive Education Program’s introduction to additive manufacturing.

The students gained access to software, curriculum and collaboration tools through the Polar Cloud, which is a community of students, educators and entrepreneurs who work together via a secure online platform. This innovative collaboration connects leading 3D printing machines to bring design, project-based learning and the art of "making" to every classroom and showroom in the world.

As part of the program, SME PRIME schools featured additive manufacturing educational content and certification opportunities from Tooling U-SME.

All in all, it’s a win-win situation for manufacturing students, educators and employers. And it showcases how the SME Education Foundation and Tooling U-SME work together as a community to close the skills gap and strengthen the future of manufacturing.

Above is only one example of how community resources can be and why they should be part of the solution to the manufacturing skills gap. Manufacturers now realize they must become part of the solution to attract younger generations to manufacturing as baby boomers exit the workforce. Collaboration between industry, local employment programs, and community and technical colleges can be an excellent source for building the talent pipeline that local businesses will need in years to come.

Jeannine Kunz is vice president at Tooling U-SME. To learn more about how Tooling U-SME helps develop the workforce through collaborations, email or call 866.706.8665.

Join Me at the SAMA Conference and AME Summit
If you will be in the San Antonio area May 8-10, please join me and other industry leaders at the San Antonio Manufacturers’ Association (SAMA) Conference on May 8, and Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Summit May 9-10, 2019, to learn more about the impact of the skills gap on the workforce and how business, academia, and government are collaborating to address this challenge. Register at