Advanced Manufacturing Requires Advanced Workforce Solutions

A Guest Blog by Joseph Lampinen, Senior Director of Engineering at Kelly Services

In recent years, disruptive technological developments have been steadily transforming the manufacturing industry in the U.S. in what is described as Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution. As a result, the concept of sprawling industrial plants with assembly lines manned by armies of low-skilled workers is rapidly becoming obsolete in many industries. Instead, manufacturers are incorporating automation in their plants. Moreover, a rapidly increasing number of manufacturers are moving towards installing advanced manufacturing technology, which includes additive and connected manufacturing as well as cutting-edge robotics. In order to do so, however, companies need to invest not only in new equipment, but also in establishing a workforce that’s qualified to work with this new equipment.

Clearly, there are significant costs involved with this endeavor. Old equipment needs to be replaced by new machines; plant infrastructures likely need to be adapted; and new processes need to be developed. Of course, large companies—for example, GE, which is investing heavily in additive manufacturing—have access to the kind of capital this requires. Once they’ve made the switch, their suppliers will have reason to follow suit. Unfortunately, small to mid-sized companies often lack the funds to invest in new equipment. That’s why some smaller manufacturing companies are forming consortiums and together, investing in high tech industrial parks they can use in a form of time-share or joint job shop.

At the same time, in order to use this sophisticated equipment, companies need talent with the right skills. In her WSJ article titled “As Skills Requirements Increase, More Manufacturing Jobs Go Unfilled,” Anna Louie Sussman states that 17 years ago, 53 percent of manufacturing workers had only a high school diploma. In 2015, that number was 44 percent—and the number of workers with an undergraduate or graduate degree had increased by eight percent. In general, these skilled workers include engineers, technologists, and technicians.

It’s interesting to note that according to the recent PWC/Manufacturing Institute report titled “Upskilling manufacturing: How technology is disrupting America’s industrial labor force,” almost half of all manufacturers experienced moderate difficulty hiring the right talent to capitalize on advanced manufacturing technologies. Furthermore, 60 percent believed there would be a skills shortage in the next three years. This isn’t only due to a shortage of STEM graduates; it’s also caused by the fact that it’s critical to hire talent with working knowledge of the specific machines in use, regardless of what products are being manufactured.

Fortunately, partnering with Kelly Services® offers an affordable, effective solution to manufacturing workforce challenges. Because we actively nurture our talent—often starting a work relationship as early as when they’re in college—we know where to find candidates with the right technical skills and experience—even when those skills are hard to find. Our knowledge of what workers are looking for both in an employer and in a job helps us create work arrangements that meet their demands and keep them engaged.

In addition, our managed services offer flexible solutions for employers and consortiums that prefer to outsource supplier management to one single provider. Instead of having to coordinate with multiple suppliers, each with their own process, employers can rely on our expertise to recruit the best contingent talent while always remaining compliant with applicable regulations. Furthermore, our talent analytics portal makes it easy to select the top performing suppliers and streamline the talent pipeline. This ultimately achieves considerable cost and time savings while still providing quality talent.

Finally, for employers that want to upskill their existing workforces, we can provide field technical trainers who come on-site, which saves companies the cost of sending their workers to a training location. Teaching employees how to use new technology under the guidance of top trainers provides them with the hands-on experience they need—and reduces or even eliminates the need for employers to begin a costly new hiring cycle.

Disruptive technology is causing a revolution in manufacturing; one that holds great promise for companies that can ride the wave. Whether a manufacturer needs engineers skilled in Design for Additive, technicians who can troubleshoot and maintain industrial control systems, or additive machine programmers and operators, partnering with Kelly provides manufacturers with the workforce expertise they need, so all they have to do is concentrate on pursuing their core operations.