Volume 25 | Issue 2 | Year 2022

Even so, improving operational efficiency is paramount if U.S. manufacturing is to adequately address a skills gap anticipated to result in some 2.1 million jobs unfulfilled by 2030, costing the economy as much as $1 trillion. How to close the gap? For all we’ve heard over the years about robots replacing people, the answer actually depends on a combination of both robots and people.

Let’s start with the robots. The use of robots in manufacturing is nothing new. In fact, assembly line robots have been around for decades, though during most of that time affordable only by companies with deep pockets. New and developing robotic technology is now not only more affordable, but easier to integrate into just about any manufacturing process.

In this issue’s feature article, Robotics’ Impact on US Manufacturing Today and Tomorrow, we note how recent innovations have added to the type and measure of tasks robots can now perform. For example, many of today’s robots contain Light Detection and Ranging (Li-DAR) sensors that enable them to judge distances using laser reflections. This is just one example of how evolving robotic technology stands to improve the efficiency of machine operation, assembly line, packing and shipping. Indeed, robotic automation can yield up to 20 to 50 percent reduction in operational cost.

But while robots are replacing human workers in some areas, particularly the repetitive and in some cases dangerous jobs that historically characterized manufacturing, a skilled workforce is more important than ever. Robots don’t run themselves. How do manufacturers attract a new generation of workers that might not perceive manufacturing as the high-tech industry it is today?

Leo Goncalves, VP of the Workforce Group for the University of Phoenix, writes that apprenticeships are one way. “Apprenticeship programs today can be smart, cost-saving 21st century solutions to help you grow the skills you need in the employees you want,” he writes in the appropriately titled How to Fill Jobs and Save Money with Apprenticeships.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates there were 26,000 apprenticeship programs nationwide as of 2020, a 73 percent jump in just over a decade. Among the many advantages to apprenticeship programs Goncalves cites is that you train apprentices for the specific needs and culture of your workplace—you don’t have to undo bad habits developed with a previous employer or try to close gaps on the fly. Many apprenticeship programs qualify for federal aid. And unlike internships where students are assigned to a variety of projects, an apprentice works full-time on a specific project at a discounted wage of a regular employee.

While apprenticeships aren’t a silver bullet that can solve all recruitment and retention problems, they are potentially a valuable component.

We hope you enjoy this issue of Industry Today and that it supplies you with some ideas to think about it in your own retention plans and productivity goals. Keep in mind you don’t have to wait for the next digital magazine issue; you can always find timely daily and weekly coverage at industrytoday.com about robots, recruitment and just about anything concerning manufacturing and industry. 

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