Students being mentored
Students working on a continuing education program.

Apprenticeships: A Bridge to Solve the Skills Gap

This article tackles the issue of skills gap in manufacturing sector. It exposes the causes and it highlights the potential of apprenticeships as a possible solution.

The skills gap is one of the top concerns for manufacturing worldwide. It could put $454 billion of manufacturing GDP at risk in 2028 alone, and employers are turning to various employee attraction and retention tactics to remedy it. Among these are investing in employee training and development, which results in higher rates of employee engagement and retention, according to findcourses.com.

Alternatively, many market leaders who can no longer afford to limit their recruiting potential are widening their nets by forgoing university degrees as a recruiting requirement in favor of a provable skill set that doesn’t have to come from a higher education institution.

This is leading apprenticeships to slowly become one of the top choices for employers looking to address the skills gap. They are particularly useful to manufacturing to recruit, train, and retain highly skilled new and existing employees, and present an alternative form of education that could potentially play a role in attracting students to manufacturing and STEM careers.

The following reviews causes of the skills gaps that are specifically affecting the manufacturing industry, and three reasons why apprenticeships could be a possible solution that addresses the skills gap issue at its core.

Manufacturing industry worker

Manufacturing industry worker.

The Skills Gap

By definition, a skills gap is the deficit that occurs when there’s a low supply of employees and job seekers with specific skills and a high (and growing) demand for said skills in the employment market. Over the last several years there has been a skills gap in the tech and manufacturing industries. While this imbalance has roots in the growing development of technological innovations, there are other factors that have played a role.

Retirement of Baby Boomers

The inevitable retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964, has finally begun and can only be expected to accelerate in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Baby Boomers’ labor participation rate is predicted to drop from 80% to below 40% by 2022, which lends to the growing fear that disaster is imminent in the employment market.

The retirement of these highly skilled workers could leave 2.4 million vacant positions by 2028 if not addressed, to which is added the loss of their technical knowledge and industry experience due to Millennials’ misperception of and growing lack of interest in manufacturing and STEM careers.

Lack of skills

The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025 about 75 million jobs will be eliminated due to artificial intelligence alone and about 133 million new positions will be created in turn. The same report states that 54% of employees will need to reskill, regardless of whether their job is white- or blue-collar, and will need to favor computer and math skills to compensate for the talent deficit.

Skills’ shelf life is shortening as these changes take place at a faster rate than expected, and workers can’t upskill or reskill fast enough to keep up. Skills that are useful today might be automated in a year and made obsolete, and workers and companies alike are having a hard time fool proofing themselves for the coming years.

Misperception of Manufacturing Careers

Even though younger generations recognize the importance of manufacturing, many students today don’t view it as a suitable career option, which ends up costing businesses by way of temporary staffing, inflated salaries, and additional training costs, and inevitably results in low levels of new recruits who are typically under-skilled and in need of more training and reskilling.

This lack of interest that millennials have shown in manufacturing and STEM careers sheds light on the need for the active collaboration between companies and higher-education institutions to engage with younger students in these fields to increase skilled professionals to satisfy corporations’ recruiting needs.

Manufacturing industry worker

Skills transmission in manufacturing industry is not happening between generations.

Apprenticeships to Bridge the Gap

The skills gap is a multifaceted problem that is affected by various factors that we’ve mentioned before, such as employee recruitment and training, low student numbers in manufacturing careers, and the retirement of Baby Boomers.

Apprenticeships offer one of the most effective solutions to manufacturing corporations and are well suited to the task due to their hands-on nature and reskilling potential. They can grant a broad set of skills and possibilities, potentially increasing a person’s chance of getting hired and making them privy to greater earnings.

Here are the three main characteristics that make apprenticeships a one-of-a-kind opportunity in the face of the manufacturing skills shortage.

Practical

The main advantage apprenticeships offer is real-world experience for students and professionals. This form of alternative education can be faster, more cost-effective, and focused on the specific skills needed to fulfil a position. Their hands-on nature is well suited to manufacturing and could help students overcome the misperception surrounding manufacturing and STEM careers.

Flexible

The stigma surrounding the value of apprenticeships—considered to be lower than a degree and suited only for low-level jobs—is slowly being eradicated as more people consider it as a serious educational option and more businesses use them for mid- to high-level job training. This learning solution’s ability to tailor itself to a company’s specific needs and focus on the development of skills is extremely useful for employee upskilling and reskilling, which are the main ways in which manufacturing companies are attempting to bridge the gap while trying to make use of their existing resources.

Unifying

The basis of a successful apprenticeship is founded on the united efforts of training providers and companies to set shared goals. For example, the U.S. government itself has actively been trying to expand the role of apprenticeships, stating that “with 7.4 million open jobs and job creators searching for skilled job seekers, apprenticeship expansion will continue to close the skills gap…”

There is no magic cure that will solve the skills gap, but one thing is certain: The change that is required will have to be a collaborative effort, and every player—governments, businesses, education and training providers, and individual workers—will have a role to fulfil.

Louisa Garcia Moreno is a content editor for Findcourses.com, a site dedicated to helping professionals find the right education and training worldwide. Based in Stockholm, she has written articles on a wide range of subjects related to professional training, such as L&D, cultures of innovation, and leadership.

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