Survey shows mixed views on skills gap

45% of manufacturers see no shortage currently

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A new survey of U.S. manufacturers by PricewaterhouseCoopers shows they have a mixed view on whether they face a skills gap and just how bad it is.

manufacturing

Almost 45 percent of respondents said there is no skills shortage currently, with 31 percent saying they expect one to develop in the next three years and 14 percent saying they don’t see one in the near future.

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More than a quarter of respondents said the skills shortage had peaked and would get less acute in the next three years, while 29 percent said the skills gap is getting worse and will continue to develop in the coming years.

The report accompanying the survey of about 120 U.S. manufacturers did highlight the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which has shown more openings than hires in manufacturing. The most recent data from April showed there were 57,000 more openings than hires in durable goods manufacturing and 85,000 more openings in non-durable goods.

A recent BizTimes special report highlighted the progress manufacturers in southeastern Wisconsin have made in addressing their workforce needs. A review of workforce data found more young people are in the manufacturing industry than in 2010 and enrollment in manufacturing programs at the state’s technical schools is up 36 percent.

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The PwC survey found that 44 percent of respondents said they had moderate difficulty finding talent to take advantage of advanced manufacturing technology over the last year. Roughly one-third of the respondents said they had little or no difficulty finding the same talent and 23 percent said they had substantial or extreme difficulty.

The PwC report offers several approaches to addressing workforce issues, ranging from training in the workplace, which the authors describe as practical and widely used, to “wild cards” that include importing talent from outside the United States and taking advantage of the maker generation and gig economy.

Three-quarters of the survey respondents said they use in-house training to bolster their workforce. Almost 41 percent said they are trying to recruit talented STEM students from local institutions and 40 percent are turning to training outside their companies.

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Just under one-third said they are hiring from outside the manufacturing sector and 26 percent said they hire from other manufacturing companies.

The respondents said almost half the people they’ve hired in the last year were vocational or junior college graduates, but when the question was limited to non-factory floor jobs, half the new hires had four-year degrees.

The respondents also indicated that as they add advanced manufacturing technology like 3D printing, robotics, automation and virtual reality, they don’t anticipate the size of their workforce will shrink. Roughly 45 percent said they see no change from the new technology and 38 percent expect to hire additional employees.

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