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Design Insights: Throwing People at the Problem; A Long-Term Solution?

May 11, 2021
A review of the day’s top trending stories from Machine Design editors.

Throwing People at the Problem

The oft-mentioned notion that robots have taken over manufacturing and replaced people is belied by a fresh wave of economic data suggesting the opposite. The issue is not finding the robots to replace the people—it’s finding the people to make the robots. And the people to make the trucks that deliver them. And the people to work next to the robots once they do arrive.

The worker shortage is cited as one of the great barriers to full economic recovery in a post-pandemic world. This month’s PMI Index shows solid growth, but underlying comments from industry professionals shows a clear lack of a skilled workforce able to plug the gaps in the supply chain and provide the finished goods on the plant floor.

Chandra Brown, CEO of MxD, a digital manufacturing institute that supports U.S. factories with digital tools, cybersecurity and workforce expertise, said at last year’s Design Summit presented by Machine Design that the job shortage is an opportunity to deliver on the promise of long-term employment—if we can develop the skilled workers.

 “It is projected that 2.4 million jobs could remain unfilled due to a skilled shortage,” Brown said. “That’s a huge problem, and equals huge opportunity, particularly for the underrepresented in manufacturing, which is women and other minority and diverse populations and underserved communities. We must reach out to [manufacturers to bridge gaps] where their staff will never be filled.”

MxD is part of Manufacturing USA, a network of 14 public-private innovation centers for advanced manufacturing that forms partnerships between government, academia and industry. The organization has released “The Hiring Guide: Cybersecurity in Manufacturing,” a playbook describing 247 job roles; it sets out career pathways that will pave the way for jobs crucial to the future of cybersecurity.

A Long-Term Solution?

Machine Design has written about the topic of workforce shortages for more than a decade. Success stories, such as this program in Michigan, are important steps in the right direction. Michigan had to remake its image as an auto-centric state to become an attractive location for robotics and high-tech industries. Other states and regional education and business consortiums have undertaken similar efforts.

Part of the opportunity is to understand the skill sets of a new workforce; another part is capturing the native knowledge of your existing workers who may be eying that retirement property.

But until local manufacturing begins to recruit workers in the same way your favorite team recruits point guards and quarterbacks—and until schools celebrate such recruitment with the same enthusiasm—the economic recovery may well stagger instead of soar.

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