Blog Post |

How to Train Up for the Future of Manufacturing

Dan Johnston

November 18, 2019

Since 2010, nearly a million manufacturing jobs have been added to the US economy—that’s up 400%. This would be all good news except that the number of new hires has slowed or remained stagnant for much of that time. The culprit: the manufacturing skills gap.

worker using machinery

The skills gap

So what is the “skills gap”? In a nutshell: it’s a mismatch between the skills that manufacturing employers are looking for and the skills they’re finding in potential hires. Specifically, the introduction of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics combined with an aging manufacturing workforce has created a huge need for a highly skilled labor force.

The result? A recent study by Deloitte estimated that up to 2.4 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2028, putting $2.5 trillion in manufacturing GDP at risk. Which is a big problem for manufacturing companies. In fact, 73% of manufacturers cite the skills gap as their top concern.

But it’s not all bad news. For workers looking to get into manufacturing, this means huge opportunities if you can train up and target the right skills.

Skills in demand

When many people think of manufacturing, they think of dirty or repetitive work in dingy  factories. In today’s America, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of the 488,000 open positions are for high tech jobs like CNC machinist, digital engineer, or drone programmer.

In fact, there’s even a growing movement against the term blue collar worker.

“We are trying hard to attract the labor we need and using an outdated word that unfortunately conjures up images of undereducated, dirty, low paid, sweatshop jobs, is just not correct,”  Jesse Z Melton, a process consultant at Harpers Ferry Toolworks, told Industry Week. “These are high-tech jobs in clean environments and we have to get that message out.”

So where are the biggest gaps in terms of skilled labor? 50% of manufacturing companies have adopted some degree of automation, which often replaces the manual and rote tasks they used to need workers for. This has freed up space for workers to focus on the increasingly complex mix of digital and soft skills needed for this new world of manufacturing:

Top 5 in-demand skill sets 

(according to manufacturing execs)

What does this mean in the manufacturing context? 
Programming skills for robots/automation Extended computer skills

that enable core production workers to program a CNC (computer numeric control) machine for a new job or interact with CAD/CAM (computer-aided

design/computer-aided manufacturing) and other engineering or manufacturing software.

Comfort with technology/computer skills Ability to respond to new products, new technologies, and new ways of working.
Digital skills A focus on digital tools that amplify human skills, support manufacturing work, and increase productivity: such as collaboration platforms, work-based social media, and instant messaging.
Working with tools & technology Comfort working with digital products in an increasingly automated environment, combined with more traditional hands-on tools. 
Critical thinking skills Ability to identify quality failures with parts coming off an automated production line and, more importantly, to take actions that remediate the problem in real time. 

Sources: Deloitte, Manufacturing Skills Gap

Top 6 in-demand skill clusters

(according to job postings)

What does this mean in the manufacturing context? 
Vehicles Production skills primarily related to the specialized needs of auto, aerospace, and defense.
Traditional Production Skills Tried-and-true production skills like welding, machining, fabrication, etc.
Computer-Automated Technologies (CAT) The ability to operate and fix computerized and automated technologies that dominate the production environment today.
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Quality-control processes that ensure the product meets quality requirements.
Industrial Design Creating products and systems optimized for manufacturability and efficiency.
Six Sigma Engineering and process improvement methodologies that improve efficiency and effectiveness by removing waste and reducing variation.

Source:  Economic Modeling, Top Manufacturing Skills In Demand

If you look at the skill sets that are in highest demand, the one thing they have in common is comfort with technology. In fact, jobs like digital talent, skilled production, and operational managers may be three times as difficult to fill in the next five years.

And employers are willing to pay for the skills they need. According to a study of nearly 400,000 job postings, employees with these skill clusters can command higher than average salaries:

  • Vehicles: Over $48K/year
  • Traditional Production Skills: Over $56K/year
  • CAT: Over $63K/year
  • GMP: Over $74K/year
  • Industrial Design: Nearly $75K/year
  • Six Sigma: Over $79K/year

So investing in training on your own—or finding an employer with a robust training program—could definitely pay off in the long run in terms of salary and opportunity.

How to train up

Now that you’ve identified the skill sets that could set you up for success, the next question is figuring out what pathway for training, work, and education can enable you to acquire them. First, do some research on what kind of manufacturing career could be right for you. There are opportunities in everything from CNC machining to robotics, so see what fits with your interests and skills.

In terms of general skills, manufacturers are always looking for workers with skills and comfort in AI/robotics, programming, and comfort with technology like online collaboration platforms. And there are a number of pathways available to anyone looking for this kind of training.

Look for…

  • Manufacturing companies that offer ongoing in-house training and learning courses with a focus on digital technologies.
  • Pre-employment training courses in skilled workforce areas. This could be a certificate earned from a local community college or an online training program in new technologies.
  • An apprenticeship program that will teach you the vital skills you need to succeed while you’re paid on the job.

Explore manufacturing job and training opportunities near you and get started on a career in manufacturing today.

Dan Johnston

Dan Johnston, Co-Founder & CEO |