There’s a constant paradox in manufacturing. Or at least in the way that people write about it. Here it is:
1.) There’s a shortage in skilled labor for manufacturing
2.) We don’t make anything anymore
That’s a gross simplification, of course. But at least half of the paradox is true. According to the Manufacturing Institute:
Why the paradox? It’s partially because emphasis on training has moved away from labor and into the knowledge-based economy. To put it simply, more kids have been told that they need a college education to get by in today’s world. But today’s world turned out to still have a fair amount of manufacturing in it. Sure, these manufacturing jobs require a fair bit of skill and training, but they are still manufacturing jobs.
But the other problem is in the nature of employment by manufacturing companies. The old model of employment saw 30+ years of investment in an employee and in an employer. Today, that timeline is much shorter. Our just-in-time, mobile economy just doesn’t mesh with that model.
In this regard contingent staffing (temps) are becoming a viable solution for many manufacturing companies large and small. A flexible workforce helps hedge against the highs and lows of the economy, and many times a long term commitment may be only possible after a worker has shown potential and spent time learning on the job.
But there are also significant benefits for workers finding employment through temporary staffing. Looking ahead, the economy will move up and down, but the need for skill will remain constant. At the same time, work history and a record of reliability are worker attributes being ever more scrutinized.
As worker acquire skills on the job, those are transferable. A worker with a diverse range of skills and a solid work history is becoming more valuable as more scrutiny is placed on the workforce. Working with a staffing agency, workers can acquire skills and experience today to help move up the economic ladder and insulate themselves from the ups and downs of the economy that inevitably happen.
And those ups and downs will happen. But trends generally move in one direction more slowly. The trend in smaller, more diverse, but skilled manufacturing is definitely one for the long term. For workers and employers, becoming more flexible and nimble are keys for long-term success.
Finally, as much things change, they stay the same. While we talk about low-skill or no-skill labor as the backbone of the economy 50+ years ago, many of those jobs were actually very skill based. It’s just that an apprenticeship system was in place to transfer those skills. Today, temporary employees are actually the long term pool of talent for manufacturing firms. By outsourcing the hiring process and utilizing a pool of talent that replaces those apprentice programs, modern manufacturing can stay nimble, grow quickly, and respond to changes in the market more quickly. For workers, it’s a chance to gain experience that is transferable to different industries.