What are the traits of the ideal manufacturing worker?
| October 19, 2016
Frequently, the American public has been told by all kinds of media outlets that there are loads of vacant manufacturing jobs because U.S. workers do not have the skills needed by manufacturing employers.
However, research refutes this and even shows that many of the things manufacturing employers want in new employees are common to almost all employers. Two studies, one at the University of Illinois and the other at Iowa State University, challenge this belief.
"First, when employers say there's a skills gap, what they're often really saying is they can't find workers willing to work for the pay they're willing to pay," Iowa State researcher Dave Swenson said. "If there was a skill shortage, people would be working longer hours, and workers would be getting higher wages. Researchers have yet to find that evidence in several categories where people are arguing that there's a skills gap."
Andrew Weaver, a professor of labor and employment relations at Illinois, agrees: "Not a week goes by without someone declaring that a huge skills gap exists in the U.S. workforce. A lot of ink has been spilled on this topic, but it's frequently without evidence."
So, assuming the research is correct, what are the qualities manufacturers look for in new hires?
"Many studies compare certificate or degree completion statistics with the educational requirements for specific occupations, even though many of those jobs can be staffed by a range of people with apprenticeships, on-the-job training or incremental skill building within a firm," Swenson said. "Without better metrics, and by relying only on educational completion data, on paper there appears to be a supply shortage relative to occupational demands, when in reality there is no shortage."
The qualities manufacturing organizations are looking for are much more universal for new hires. These skills are "soft skills" like:
Good attitude and punctuality: Dave Larkin, the professor who heads Hudson Valley Community College's Advanced Manufacturing Program, works with dozens of manufacturing executives who recruit his graduates. "When I ask what companies are looking for, the answer is never math skills," Larkin told the Albany Business Review. "The first thing they say is good attitude and punctuality."
Reliability: Closely related to punctuality is reliability. Manufacturing employers can train new workers for their entry-level jobs, but, only if they show up.
Ambition: Ambitious employees are in demand for the manufacturing sector. Ambitious employees don't view their jobs as a stepping stone to a job in another industry. They want to learn and thrive in the manufacturing sector.
Eagerness to learn: Managers are nearly unanimous that employees who like to learn new things are just want manufacturing employers are looking for.
Communication: This is important to manufacturing employers for two reasons. First, many manufacturing companies use a team approach to production. This means that a worker must have the communication skills of listening as well as talking. Teamwork is also important for the same reasons.
Strong work ethic: This trait is sought after and employees who demonstrate this trait not only are hired easily but become the kind of factory employee who moves up the ladder.
But don't manufacturing hires need a certificate or degree?
As noted earlier, many manufacturing jobs do not require much more than a high school education. On the other hand, no production facility will turn away prospective employees whose education gives them skill sets needed for top performance. Those employees eliminate the need for hires with apprenticeships, on-the-job training or incremental skill building. Their higher education provides a shortcut to being a fully productive manufacturing employee.
The two research studies cannot conclusively show that STEM skills are secondary when hiring manufacturing employees, although they strongly suggest this is this case. Additional research is needed to state these findings as fact.
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