Mass Manufacturers Face Workforce Shortage

One in three Massachusetts manufacturers report having a difficult time hiring the production workers they need, according to a UMass Dartmouth survey of 1,350 manufacturing firms conducted for the Advanced Manufacturing Regional Partnership Academy (AMRPA), a key initiative of the Massachusetts Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative (AMC).

Sixty percent of these same firms report that they expect to employ more production workers in two years than they do today.

“These findings provide us with strong evidence that Massachusetts workforce development and educational institutions face a significant but targeted challenge,” notes UMass Dartmouth professor Michael Goodman, who is leading the AMRPA effort.

“Our findings are consistent with recent MIT research that also finds that, while the scale of this challenge is more modest than some have claimed, we can solve this problem if we can strengthen the connections between those employers with very real workforce needs and our vocational high schools, community colleges, and workforce development agencies,” Goodman adds.

According to the survey, the challenge of preparing next-generation manufacturing workers crosses the six major sectors that make up the larger advanced manufacturing industry in Massachusetts, but the problem is particularly pronounced in the fabricated metals and machinery sector where 42 percent of firms surveyed reported difficulty sourcing the workers they need.

Several factors are contributing to the skilled-labor shortage, including a recent rebound in manufacturing, the retirement of baby boomers, and the persistent view that manufacturing requires dirty hard labor.

A continued lack of labor could mean that manufacturers will be forced to reduce their output or move oversees when talent is more readily available.

While many Massachusetts-based companies have their own training initiatives, and programs like the AMC and the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership are helping to jumpstart manufacturing careers, it’s still not enough to fill the gap.

According to the AMRPA study, the majority of Massachusetts manufacturers report they have never worked with key public institutions including their local comprehensive high schools (73 percent), community colleges (69 percent), four-year universities (76 percent), and workforce investment boards.

Only 16 percent of manufacturers surveyed said they are working  frequently with temporary staffing agencies and 10 percent report working closely with vocational high schools.

On a positive note, 90 percent of firms surveyed by the AMRPA said that if a potential production worker had the right attitude and basic skills, they would be willing and able to train them.

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