U.S. factories are in trouble, and it’s not because of offshoring or robots. It’s due to a manufacturing skills gap that’s creating a serious talent shortage. The good news is nearly 3.5 million factory jobs will need to be filled between 2015-2025, according to The Skills Gap in US Manufacturing in 2015 and Beyond by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. But the bad news is 2 million of these jobs will likely go unfilled as result of a skills shortage in the manufacturing industry.

Although automation has taken away some jobs, it has also created new jobs on the factory floor that require an entirely different skill-set. These “smart factories” feature intelligent manufacturing systems based on sensors, robotics, big data, controllers, and machine learning. To operate these new factory floors, employees need to be savvy with computers to manage these new robots and machines on the floor.

Manufacturing also has an image problem

To make matters worse, the manufacturing industry is also suffering from an image problem. Today’s millennials are attracted to the office instead of the factory floor and as a result, manufacturing companies are struggling to fill their ranks. Millennials in a recent survey ranked manufacturing as their least preferred career destination. Not a great trend for factory bosses.

Surprisingly, most manufacturing executives in the Deloitte report said they’re willing to pay more than market rates to attract talent, yet 6 out of 10 positions remain unfilled. According to Payscale, a mid-career auto mechanic earns 47% more annually than a mid-career bank teller, who earns an average of $21,714 per year. What’s more an average welder earns $90,000 per year, but still there seem to be no takers. Despite a higher than average salary in manufacturing, there’s a lack of applicants vying for these roles.

With baby boomers retiring in droves, these unfilled positions are taking a toll on manufacturing companies—with executives saying it’s impacting their ability to expand, innovate, and meet customer demands.

Corporate learning and development can address the manufacturing skills gap

What can manufacturing companies do to address this skills gap? 94% of executives surveyed felt focusing on internal training and development for new and existing employees will be critical to reducing the talent shortage.

Here are some of the key skills companies should focus on to close the gap and help make manufacturing jobs cool again.

Computers are the new factory tools

A basic understanding of programming and hardware will be necessary for today’s “smart” factory worker to manage all the robots and intelligent machines churning out products. But according to Deloitte, 70% of executives indicated technology and computer skills are missing, 67% said workers lacked basic technical training, and 69% felt their employees’ problem solving skills were insufficient.

Companies must train new and existing employees on programming and computer hardware troubleshooting through affordable online courses on Udemy for Business, including basic familiarity with computers and networks training, and programming languages like Python and Java, both popular and versatile languages used in a wide variety of areas including robotics. Learning to use AutoCAD for 3D modeling and engineering design of complex machinery will also be an important skill in the new automated factory.

Machine learning and data science

60% of executives also felt math skills were lacking in the current manufacturing workforce—a critical skill as intelligent machinery spits out data that requires analytical prowess to keep an eye on production lines. To make employees more data savvy, Excel courses can help them perform simple data analysis work or master technical analysis and chart reading skills. For more complex data modeling skills expected at today’s high-tech plants, there’s also a data science and machine learning boot camp with R.

Basic communication and writing skills continue to be a necessity

While manufacturing job applicants must be technically savvy, they also cannot lack basic writing and communication skills. Siemens Energy recently opened a gas turbine production plant in Charlotte, North Carolina. Out of all the applicants, less than 15% passed the basic reading, writing, and math screening test, which was based on a 9th grade education.

Writing a concise and clear email is required in even the most technical roles. As a result, email writing skills and communication skills training will also be essential.

Training new and existing employees with these tech skills can also help change the industry’s image and make manufacturing jobs cool again to the next generation of factory workers.

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