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In many ways, manufacturing has never been doing better. Record numbers of manufacturers are optimistic about the future. Many are growing, investing, and hiring. Yet, this success is also fueling a growing crisis: too many manufacturing jobs and not enough workers to fill them.

Carolyn Lee, executive director of The Manufacturing Institute (MI)—the education and workforce partner of the National Association of Manufacturers—helps explain manufacturing’s “skills gap” workforce crisis and what the MI is doing to help solve it.

Carolyn, just how bad is the problem currently?

There are more than half a million open jobs in manufacturing right now, and based on a study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, 2.4 million jobs could go unfilled and about $2.5 trillion worth of GDP could be at risk over the next decade if we don’t get this under control soon. So this is a problem for manufacturing, yes, but it’s also a problem for the economy overall.

What’s driving it?

There are three main drivers. Some don’t know these jobs exist, some don’t have the right skills to land them, and some just don’t see the point. That last challenge—the perception challenge—is particularly tricky. Many envision manufacturing jobs the way their grandparents remember them. But that really isn’t how modern manufacturing careers look today.

Well, how do they look?

Modern manufacturing careers are increasingly high-tech, high-skill, and high-pay. The possibilities in manufacturing will become even more exciting as Manufacturing 4.0 technology continues to revolutionize the industry. Tomorrow’s manufacturing jobs will increasingly rely upon irreplaceable human skills—things like creativity, critical thinking, design, innovation, engineering and finance—and, by the way, many of these careers don’t require a four-year degree or the debt that can come with it.

What is the Institute doing to address this challenge?

We have a variety of programs designed to excite, educate and empower the manufacturing workforce of today and tomorrow, with a particular focus in four key areas: women, veterans, youth and lifelong learning. We are empowering women already in the industry and giving them tools to inspire and mentor others (STEP Women’s Initiative), we are connecting transitioning service members and veterans to great careers in manufacturing plus arming them with the exact skills and qualifications needed to excel (Heroes MAKE America), we are helping excite the next generation by encouraging companies and educational institutions across the country to open their doors to the reality of modern manufacturing careers (MFG Day), and we are engaged in a variety of initiatives to help current manufacturing workers access training for newer technology-intensive jobs—among many other programs and initiatives.

What can others do to help be a part of the change the MI is trying to enact?

One thing I’d recommend, and something the Institute is working to facilitate, is for people to educate themselves, their families, and their friends on what jobs in manufacturing truly look like. It’s an exciting time to be a manufacturer and there are lots of great opportunities in the industry, so come join us.

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