Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce: Combating manufacturing misconceptions

Feb. 27, 2019
Plant Services' Christine LaFave Grace interviews Keith Barr, CEO and president of Leading2Lean

Plant Services’ Christine LaFave Grace interviews Keith Barr, CEO and president of Leading2Lean, about the company’s recent Workforce Index study, which looked at today’s impressions of the U.S. manufacturing industry. They discuss how these perceptions impact workforce, and solutions for how manufacturers can get beyond these perceptions.


 Amanda Del Buono: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce. We have another great pod in store for you today, and we’re welcoming back Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor of Putman Media’s Plant Services magazine, and she is joined by Keith Barr, CEO and president of Leading2Lean, a company which wo          rks to improve manufacturing operations through digital transformation via software solutions.

Here’s their interview.

Christine LaFave Grace: The U.S. manufacturing industry has been riding high by more than a few measures. On a wave of job growth, technological innovations creating new goals and new efficiencies in industries and public-private partnerships helping to shore up vital skills training. The sector is robust enough, in fact, that last year, a study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute found that U.S. manufacturers could face a shortage of more than 2.4 million workers by 2028. But that’s a story, it seems, that hasn’t reached most Americans.

I’m talking today with Keith Barr, president and CEO of Leading2Lean, a Northern Nevada-based company offering software tools designed to help manufacturers better manage their shop floor processes. Leading2Lean recently conducted its first-ever Manufacturing Index, which looked at perceptions, and largely misperceptions, about the U.S. manufacturing industry today.

Keith, thanks so much for joining us today.

Keith Barr: Christine, thanks very much for having me. This is an important issue for us, and I’m hoping that we can share some insights that are valuable to your audience.

CLG: Yeah, you know, we hear that U.S. manufacturers are having a hard time attracting workers and attracting young workers in particular. What do you think, based on your survey, are some of the biggest factors contributing to this?

KB: Well, I think the demand in the manufacturing industry for workforce is increasing, because of the number of retiring workers and so it’s added to the problem. But I think the problem has been more the perception and the way that the younger workforce looks at manufacturing as an industry. I think our survey found some interesting things that indicate that we have some work to do to both educate the younger generation about the kind of opportunity that exists and also help them really understand what manufacturing’s challenges and opportunities are, because it’s a different workplace than I think most people perceive.

CLG: Yeah, the disparities in some of the numbers from your research. You found, for example, that 75% of the thousands of people surveyed believe that having a strong manufacturing sector is important to help grow the U.S. economy. But, more than half of Millennials, for example, believe that robots, AI and machines are going to replace all the manufacturing jobs in the U.S. What were some of the other figures that stuck out to you from your findings, and how to do you really combat some of these misperceptions?

KB: Well, I think, clearly the survey showed that the next-generation workforce really didn’t see manufacturing as a career opportunity, and I think that couldn’t be further from the truth, because we have a very evolving and technical environment that exists and while more robotics and more artificial intelligence is being put in place in manufacturing shop floors, the requirement for a highly technical and even computer skilled individuals is greater than it’s ever been. These machines require programming. There are problem-solving tasks that require sophisticated technical skills that I think would be very appealing to the next-generation workforce. But I think they’re just unaware that they exist or have a perception that it’s the assembly line that doesn’t require a lot of aptitude or skill. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Real opportunity exists.

CLG: So, what’s needed to get that part of the story out? To let young people, especially, know that these high-tech, really innovation-focused opportunities in manufacturing are out there?  What are the tools to get that story out there, and who is involved in getting that story out there?

KB: Well, I think obviously the manufacturers themselves play a major role, and probably a pivotal role in how the rest of the world perceives manufacturing, and it starts with the workforce they have today. You know, when my dad told me I should be anything but a diesel mechanic, because he was a diesel mechanic, that was sort of suggesting that he thought there was a better life for me, right? And I think, today, a lot of manufacturing employees are going home and they’re suggesting that there are other career paths for their children. And I think that’s because they think the culture and the environment hasn’t been conducive to wanting them to promote that to their own families, and that’s changing, and I think that’s changed significantly due to the cultural change that’s occurring on the plant floor, and manufacturers really have control over that by deploying the right kinds of technology. I also think manufacturers have a key role in how the public perceives the work on the plant floor and there’s some great examples in the industry that I think they could leverage to position not just their brands, which I think is the focus of most marketing activity, but also focus on why the next-generation workforce would find real value there.

For more, download this episode of Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce.

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