What Skills Do Manufacturers Need Most in 2021?
What Skills Do Manufacturers Need Most in 2021?
Industry Insights
What Skills Do Manufacturers Need Most in 2021?
A National Association of Manufacturers' estimate says there'll be a total of 2.2 million jobs available between 2012 and 2022
April 19, 2021

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The Top 13 Skills for Manufacturing Workers in 2021

#1 – Strong Communication

#2 – Critical thinking

#3 – Analytical skills

#4 – Team skills and tolerance

#5 – STEM skills

#6 – Mechanical and technical skills

#7 – Flexibility

#8 – A knack for solving big problems

#9 – Be multilingual

#10 – Attention to detail and manual acuity

#11 – Aptitude for and interest in technology

#12 – Dependable

#13 – Cross-training

A Note on the Education in the Modern Manufacturing Workforce

Conclusion

What comes to mind when most people think of jobs in manufacturing are a calloused pair of thick hands, a sturdy back, and a solid approach to life and work. This was the classic definition of the manufacturing worker.

However, modern manufacturing provides opportunities for people from nearly every background you can think of. Be it core engineering, installation, production, or transportation, manufacturers are interested in hiring you if you have the skillset suitable for the job. What are these skills anyway?

The proliferation of tech-powered manufacturing is changing how manufacturing companies hire talent. The modern manufacturing worker needs a broader skillset to be relevant and successful. Workers need to develop the critical skills necessary for today's manufacturing jobs.

It's certainly okay to point out that there are up to 500,000 unfilled manufacturing positions due to a lack of skilled, qualified workers. A National Association of Manufacturers' estimate says there'll be a total of 2.2 million jobs available between 2012 and 2022. It means there are jobs in manufacturing in the years ahead if you can prepare yourself for it.

Those who are already working in manufacturing and want to further their career can ramp up on the necessary skills and education to land the manufacturing position of their dreams. Bear in mind that there are many advancements in technology. With lean and green manufacturing processes shaping the current manufacturing landscape, the technology has become a crucial complement for the hands-on production, creativity, and innovation typical of manufacturing.

Working in manufacturing trains the worker to learn and engage in the production process. Developing this skill set, traits, and abilities endows you with in-demand competencies that can apply anywhere in the modern era.

A National Association of Manufacturers' estimate says there'll be a total of 2.2 million jobs available between 2012 and 2022.

The Top 13 Skills for Manufacturing Workers in 2021

According to Deloitte and other reputable sources, these are the top skills that manufacturers want from employees.


#1 – Strong communication

The sheer size of manufacturing operations makes it inevitable to function with individuals from diverse backgrounds. These people may be clients or team members. It's essential to deliver and follow instructions as closely as possible. All of this begins with being able to communicate effectively.

We need to point out that having excellent communication skills is not a peculiar requirement for manufacturing. Employers want people who can liaise well with co-workers to resolve issues to fulfill the company's grander vision. A good team player lifts the spirit of the entire unit.


#2 – Critical thinking

Can you identify when processes are not working as they should? At its core, manufacturing is a scientific endeavor. Workers in the sector need to apply logic and reasoning to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of competing approaches, conclusions, or solutions in the face of challenging scenarios.

A high level of innovation requires workers to possess or develop advanced skills along with advanced critical thinking to surpass what is expected and acceptable. Creativity and innovation are fuel for growth, problem-solving, and new product development.

A key component of critical thinking is to have the capacity to ask questions and correct weaknesses. A valuable worker in a manufacturing concern typically thinks on their feet and deals with problems in an assembly-line fashion. Doing so frees up supervisors and shop floor managers to handle other pressing issues and find it easier to delegate tasks.

Hiring managers in manufacturing want employees who can respond correctly to spontaneous issues with minimal error.

A key component of critical thinking is to have the capacity to ask questions and correct weaknesses.


#3 – Analytical skills

A dynamic environment such as manufacturing requires deep analytical skills to unravel how systems interoperate. Analytical skills also help in figuring out how specific aspects of operations, working environments, and general conditions can impact the outcome of projects.


#4 – Team skills and tolerance

Manufacturing is a cooperative rather than an isolating vocation. As an employee in manufacturing, you should communicate with your co-workers and relay information to them in a transparent, respectful, and prompt manner.

Complex manufacturing setups are replete with opportunities for employees to benefit from an enabling company culture that provides ample room for collaborative problem-solving. Expounding on the Stanford study that revealed this, professor of economics at the university, Kathryn Shaw, points out that it's not just the teams, but it's about creating an environment that enables the teams to exist and thrive. An environment that supports teamwork could be a group of experts working together to solve one problem, for instance.

Why use a group of people? The reason is that the group stands a better chance at navigating the problem. No single individual will be better than having the group pool their ideas and collectively forging through one challenge after the other.

The five-year Stanford study, on which Professor Kathryn is an author, found that collaborative teams at mills tripled in number. The practice of using teams is now more ubiquitous as tasks increase in complexity.


Kathryn Shaw, points out that it's not just the teams, but it's about creating an environment that enables the teams to exist and thrive.

#5 – STEM skills

Schools are paying more attention to STEM, an acronym representing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM has a significant influence on manufacturing, especially concerning hiring. Modern organizations prefer to hire candidates with the ability and experience to apply appropriate equipment, principles, procedures, and techniques to design and produce a vast range of goods and services.

Nutek Corporation's Thomas Martin points to manufacturing as a significant reason why STEM education is more critical than at any other time in history. He explains that today's manufacturing revolves around automation and programs, capturing repetitive tasks within sophisticated processes with superior skill requirements.

Math skills are essential for analyzing, designing, and troubleshooting work. There are resources online to help you ramp up even if you flunked high school math.

Clearly, the modern manufacturing world needs advanced skills to hold any real significance. Their advanced skills ensure operational efficiency and can help manufacturers grow their output and revenue.


#6 – Mechanical and technical skills

As industries evolve, they implicitly demand mechanical and technical know-how for safe and efficient operation of specialized machinery, including milling machines and drill presses, and adequately handling metalworking or other complicated processes.


#7 – Flexibility

Manufacturing is no longer the one-way track it once was. Positions within the sector now involve multiple processes and procedures that naturally appear convoluted to the untrained eye. Therefore, employees need to be inclined to learning. They also need to master the art of learning and maintain flexibility in mindset when working on tasks.

Maryland Manufacturing Extension Partnership's Brian Sweeney says manufacturers want people who would enjoy learning to operate computers and computer-powered machinery. Those with an interest in quality control are also highly valuable. It's common to find CAM/CAM technology, computerized measuring machines, and CNC machine tools in manufacturing operations.

Flexibility is a crucial requirement because modern manufacturing tasks are more creative than routine, and workers should expect to do new things every day.


It's common to find CAM/CAM technology, computerized measuring machines, and CNC machine tools in manufacturing operations.

#8 – A knack for solving big problems

Manufacturing involves giant machines and installations with millions of small moving parts. It's rare to have machinery working in isolation. If you're going to operate such equipment or work as a plant technician, your ability to accurately identify problems and prescribe appropriate long-term solutions is priceless.

Supposing there is a problem in production traceable to a piece of equipment, the operator should explain precisely what's going on with that production segment. Based on the available information, the equipment technician can troubleshoot to solve the problem.

[Lean] manufacturing facilities encouraging stating the problem as clearly as possible to begin solving it. Problem-solving is a serious exercise because problems can make any manufacturing project grind to a halt.

In all manufacturing, problem-solving is critical to success, so teams can be specific on developing an effective solution.


#9 – Be multilingual

Globalization is standard practice for companies worldwide. Competing internationally means companies need a way to communicate with those from other climes. If you speak more than one language, you can play a pivotal role in modern manufacturing, especially if you align your skills with technical and managerial expertise. It's advisable to be fluent in languages such as Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish – dominant languages in the manufacturing world.


#10 – Attention to detail and manual acuity

It's essential to note that manual acuity is now non-negotiable as most manufacturing jobs now require hands-on production accuracy.

Without the utmost attention to detail, speed, and precision, processes would spiral out of control to the detriment of both worker and company. A manufacturing worker should display great focus and be paranoid about detail. Indeed, handling heavy machinery is a call to be sober while at it.


#11 – Aptitude for and interest in technology

Manufacturing operations depend on machines. Machines, in turn, depend on technology, and technology continues to evolve at an exponential pace. The smartphone has remarkably advanced manufacturing, but today, it's drones at work. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are making rapid inroads into all sectors. With data assuming a more significant role by the day, it's only a matter of time before manufacturing shifts again.

A worker who can make sense of this evolution in technology through a strong desire to learn it is the one with long-term potential value for employers. It's a viable skill to highlight on any resumé, and if you have previous experience, that makes it more appealing.


With data assuming a more significant role by the day, it's only a matter of time before manufacturing shifts again.

#12 – Dependable

Not many employees [regardless of the sector] are dependable. Manufacturing plants are usually massive. It's the reason why supervisors need their employees to be accountable with minimal oversight.

A manufacturing employee should need little hand-holding. They should be able to deliver perfect quality without supervisory oversight. It's probably the ultimate recipe for a successful career.

The routine of showing up early for work every day helps you become more dependable. It also allows you to settle into work and handle all preliminaries early enough to detect issues in a no-pressure situation.


#13 – Cross-training

A fallout of the constant evolution of technology in manufacturing is that the less familiar job tasks keep emerging. On other occasions, it becomes necessary to fill in for others at work. Learning to handle numerous functions may require training. However, the significant advantage is that supervisors or floor managers can use you as a utility employee.

Better still, filling several job roles enables you to be an excellent trainer, team lead, or supervisor down the road.


A Note on the Education in the Modern Manufacturing Workforce

The current manufacturing landscape demands a more knowledgeable workforce than half a century ago. More and more manufacturing employers understand and require higher education for positions in their companies.

Many advanced positions, including Industrial Technicians, Manufacturing Managers, and Mechanical Engineers, expect applicants to hold a specialized college degree from an accredited Manufacturing and Machining school. A post-secondary certificate may also suffice.

Both prospective manufacturing workers and employers reap plenty of benefits from manufacturing-focused higher-ed programs. First, they deliver dedicated hands-on training to introduce students to cutting-edge manufacturing technologies and methodologies. This onboarding cuts across sectors such as CNC machining, supply chain logistics, and green manufacturing.

These manufacturing training programs aim to create a more skilled workforce, enabling students to develop in-demand manufacturing skills.

The current manufacturing landscape demands a more knowledgeable workforce than half a century ago.


Conclusion

The Great Depression led to the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs. The generation after that did not seem particular about any job in manufacturing. Most surviving jobs required low skill and paid low. But, manufacturing has come back with a bang though they came back differently.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is influencing the future of work through advanced robotics, AI, analytics, automation, the Internet of Things, and machine learning. Many fear that these will make a concerted effort to take away jobs, but the truth couldn't be further. These technologies will create more jobs than they will take away.

Today's manufacturing jobs are a generous mix of engineering skills and traditional manufacturing abilities. Common engineering skills include industrial design, Quality Control, and so forth, while manufacturing skills may cover machining, welding, and more.

Modern products result from manufacturing processes that use computer-controlled machinery along with methods to improve efficiency. Workers willing to put in the work to improve their skills and education stand an excellent chance to upgrade their earnings and standard of living. Indeed, there's a bright future for careers in manufacturing.

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