Preparing students for the manufacturing skills gap

Boeing Factory
There will be over two million manufacturing positions left unfilled due to a skills gap over the next decade. Photo: markjhandel

New data suggests that the U.S. manufacturing field will experience a significant skills gap in the next decade. Washington state stakeholders recommend that the state better integrate and invest in manufacturing programs as part of the school day, as well as better collaborate between academia and state leadership to prepare Washington youth to enter the sector with the information and skills necessary to fill needed positions.

A recent Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute study found that the U.S. manufacturing skills gap may leave 2.4 million jobs unfilled between now and 2028. This gap is anticipated to have an economic impact of $2.5 trillion nationally. The report also suggest that digital talent, skilled production and operation management jobs will be three times harder to fill within the next three years.

According to Washington State Department of Revenue data, Washington manufacturers reported gross business revenues of $176 billion in 2017.

Sara Garrettson, Director of Communications for the Washington Roundtable, told Lens there are several great manufacturing jobs and manufacturing employers in Washington that the state’s youth should be better exposed to.

“We are focused on ensuring that kids in Washington state are growing up and getting the skills and education they need to take advantage of the jobs created here in the state,” she said.

Garrettson said good progress has been made locally, such as school districts who invite employers to schools to talk about career needs, citing one successful program for Washington students: Core Plus Aerospace.

Core Plus is a two-year manufacturing program for juniors and seniors in high school with a focus on either aircraft manufacturing or maritime work. Unlike other Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, Core Plus is authorized to grant credits in math, science and the arts, which allows teachers to fit the classes into the core curriculum.

“The reason we have been most impressed by the program is that it really teaches high school students real world skills and gives them the ability to explore career tracks and industries while still in school,” said Garrettson.

She added that Core Plus opens the doors to manufacturing jobs and gives a leg up when pursuing apprenticeships or careers.

“Manufacturing is an industry that has supported communities in Washington state for decades and is a part of its economic engine,” she said.  “We have very strong small, medium and large manufacturing employers in this state and the future of that is important….”

Twelve years ago, the Manufacturing Industrial Council (MIC) noticed a skills gap within manufacturing and worked with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to create the Core Plus in-school approach to better prepare and connect students with careers in the sector.

MIC Program Manager Tory Gering said OSPI plays a vital role in preparing Washington’s youth because the office is in charge of CTE, which includes several hands-on classes in manufacturing or other fields.

“I think in a perfect world, the governor and OSPI would work together to really address in-school needs and also come up with a way to provide after school programs,” said Gering. “There is a lot of money going around now to help this sort of thing, but no one is really being collaborative about it.”

Gering said that the Core Plus program is a great option for Washington’s youth because it is free and provides money for school districts to maintain their shop programs and provide professional development for their teachers.

“Typically, this is the only place in the public high school system where we can provide something for everyone and we can assess then and survey them and know demographic trends,” she said.

Also, there are many sectors that play an important role in the state’s economy that are “recession proof” which is where the state should better assist students finding careers.

“I think it’s important for kids to understand that and know that the skills they are learning are applicable to many jobs out there that are successful,” said Gering.

“There is an issue right now that everyone is facing which is soft skills,” she continued. “Kids right now are different…and are very comfortable not doing much.”

She said she’s seen kids turn down $17 an hour jobs partially due to the perception around manufacturing and maritime work. Progress is being made, however, as more people are beginning to realize that manufacturing and maritime jobs are great matches for artsy kids, for example, and these jobs allow students to enter the workforce without debt.

“These kids are getting exposed to multiple sectors, skill sets, multiple employers, and so just that connection to see and talk to employers is really helpful for kids to get confidence in talking to adults and just understand that the whole world isn’t just white-collar office work.”

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