Looming skills shortage prompts innovative workforce retention and recruiting strategies

A shortage of highly skilled manufacturing workers—the people running sophisticated equipment on the plant floor, as well as engineering and management professionals—poses a serious threat for North American industrial competitiveness. The shortage lies in the demographics as legions of baby boomers near retirement.

06/01/2008


A shortage of highly skilled manufacturing workers—the people running sophisticated equipment on the plant floor, as well as engineering and management professionals—poses a serious threat for North American industrial competitiveness. The shortage lies in the demographics as legions of baby boomers near retirement.

Even though manufacturing often embodies advanced technologies and business practices, one problem is that the manufacturing industry has failed to update its image of smokestacks and grime to compete with blossoming appeal of other careers.

“Kids started to perceive industry wasn't cool. They wanted to major in business, make big money, pursue MBAs. Or they wanted to go into computers, without any idea what to do with them,” says Cliff Pedersen, manager of product production processes for Suncor Energy , a Calgary, Alberta-based oil & gas company.

Suncor is in the midst of a multicompany collaborative initiative in Sarnia, Ontario, known as “Chemical Valley” for the clustering of big plants along the St. Clair River south of Lake Huron. That initiative sparked Ontario's Ministry of Education to establish a three-year college program in Chemical Production Engineering Technology (CPET). Offered through Lambton College, it has attracted and graduated hundreds of young people. The model is being expanded regionally and underscores what's possible, given ingenuity and effort.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in services began to rise readily in 1950 as manufacturing employment steadily declined. While industrial automation and information technology improved productivity and reduced the need for manual labor, a “skills gap” study conducted by Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and New York-based Deloitte Consulting says 80 percent of manufacturers reported in 2005 an overall shortage of qualified workers, with 65 percent indicating a shortage of engineers and scientists.




Enterprise systems supplier Infor offers workforce and talent management software solutions that comprise a road map for companies looking to identify, mentor, and groom talent in-house.

“In addition to the whole baby boomer retirement issue, fewer people are going into engineering and scientific fields,” says Eric Cosman, internal engineering solutions IT consultant and a 32-year employee with Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical . Cosman is active in internal mentoring, and administrates employee outreach at job fairs to attract young people to industry.

Creating a level of excitement around careers in industry—and garnering government support for school curriculum development—is a major initiative among local and national groups in North America.

“The Automation Federation is an umbrella organization comprised of four automation groups—ISA, WBF, WINA, and OMAC—created to speak as one entity on this issue,” says Michael Marlowe, client manager and director of government relations.

The Automation Federation is lobbying Congress for creation and funding of two- and four-year automation engineering curriculum to foster workforce development. It also partners with the Department of Labor in the “Cool Jobs” campaign, and collaborates with the federal Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP), which supports small and midsize manufacturers.

Workforce development is an issue some enterprise software vendors are beginning to champion.

“The problem can seem too big to take on—like boiling the ocean,” says Brian Bowman, senior product manager, human capital management, for enterprise systems supplier Infor . But in addition to its workforce and talent management software, Infor has a road map for companies looking to identify, mentor, and groom talent in-house.





No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Learn how to create value with re-use; gain productivity with lean automation and connectivity, and optimize panel design and construction.
Go deep: Automation tackles offshore oil challenges; Ethernet advice; Wireless robotics; Product exclusives; Digital edition exclusives
Lost in the gray scale? How to get effective HMIs; Best practices: Integrate old and new wireless systems; Smart software, networks; Service provider certifications
Fixing PID: Part 2: Tweaking controller strategy; Machine safety networks; Salary survey and career advice; Smart I/O architecture; Product exclusives
The Ask Control Engineering blog covers all aspects of automation, including motors, drives, sensors, motion control, machine control, and embedded systems.
Look at the basics of industrial wireless technologies, wireless concepts, wireless standards, and wireless best practices with Daniel E. Capano of Diversified Technical Services Inc.
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
This is a blog from the trenches – written by engineers who are implementing and upgrading control systems every day across every industry.
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Control Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.