Pictured Above: The skills gap created by retirement and new jobs being created because of growth creates 4.6 million manufacturing jobs to fill in the next decade, according to the 2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap and Future Of Work Study. Because of the skills shortage in the U.S. Manufacturing industry, 2.4 million jobs will go unfilled.
The labor shortage isn’t just impacting farm equipment dealers, manufacturers are facing the same struggle. “It’s stifling to think through the challenges. We have to be able to find the right people, enough people and to keep them there and be able to manage our business,” says Mark Core, executive vice president & CMO for Vermeer.
According to the 2018 Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap and Future of Work Study, over the next decade, there will be 4.6 million manufacturing jobs that need to be filled. The 2015 version of the study showed 2.5 million jobs in the next 10 years, so the problem is expanding. And, that’s just manufacturing; there are a number of industries facing that same shortage. “This would be easy if the only industry that was short people was manufacturing,” he says. “That would be an easier scenario than the reality is.”
Vermeer has put a strong focus on improving workforce development. In fact, the day the tornado hit the Vermeer facilities in July 2018 the company had announced plans for a new $12 million training facility, a quarter of which would have been dedicated to training new manufacturing employees how to do their jobs, explains Core. Unfortunately, the destruction caused by the tornado put those plans on hold.
Core notes that the people Vermeer is hiring today to manufacture balers “didn’t grow up tinkering in the garage with their father trying to make their car faster.” Instead, they’ve grown up with some sort of technology right in their hands. But, the way balers are made hasn’t changed. “We still use wrenches and welders. And we still use machine shop tools and we still paint the same way,” he says. “And it doesn’t make these people bad by any stretch of the imagination. I believe at times we have to help somebody understand what ¾ means on a wrench. That’s scary. Sometimes people building our equipment, the first wrench they ever touched is when we put them on an assembly line.”
Marion County, Iowa, where Vermeer is based, is a competitive market with 6,407 jobs, compared to other counties in the state with less than 500 jobs. Plus, unemployment for the county is less than 2%, Core says.
Whitney Wilkinson, talent acquisition manager for Vermeer, stresses the importance of educating students and children at a very early age. And, equally as important, is including their parents in the discussion. Vermeer invests in the talent pipeline in three areas: STEM awareness, manufacturing visibility and Vermeer engagement. The broadest efforts are in the STEM awareness, and she says that involves educating students, teachers, parents and school administrators on all the opportunities that area available within the STEM field. “Then we get a little bit narrower into manufacturing specific programs. So, not only are there STEM related opportunities, but how does that then relate to opportunities within manufacturing. And then we get a little bit more specific to Vermeer programs and hopefully at the bottom of the funnel we end up with our new team members,” she explains.
“This would be easy if the only industry that was short people was manufacturing…” – Mark Core
Vermeer participates in STEM festivals and will bring along welding, paint and drill simulators to help educate students. In addition, subject matter experts from within Vermeer will sometimes go along to talk about what they do on a daily basis. Engineers from the company have the opportunity to visit school and read to students in the classroom and educate them about what an engineer does. Vermeer also partners with other companies in the area with the goal of encouraging students to continue their education in a STEM-related field, Wilkinson says.
The manufacturer has a STEM-based early learning center — Yellow Iron Academy — across the street from its main campus. In addition to families employed by Vermeer, the child care center is open to others in the community as well. STEM related, age-appropriate activities include things like identifying numbers, observing ant farms, identifying patterns. Each day parents get an email explaining what sort of STEM activities their child participated in and what STEM field it correlates to, she says. This helps bring the parents into the conversation.
To help expose teachers to manufacturing, Vermeer has a 2-week teacher intern program. “This is one of my favorites. It’s a paid internship where teachers get to come during the summer,” Wilkinson says. “They get to spend time on our campus with subject matter experts and learn everything there is to know about working in those areas.”
She says teachers learn about the different STEM fields someone could get involved in at a company like Vermeer, along with the approximate salaries for entry level positions and career paths for those positions. Wilkinson says during the second week, the teachers participate in a continuous improvement event, and following it they have to report on what they learned and about their experience with the program. “This year we asked them to do a lesson plan and told us how they were going to take what they learned back to the classroom for their students,” she says.
The teacher intern program has been in place for 11 years, and in that time just shy of 80 teachers from 14 schools have participated.
Vermeer also hosts an annual Manufacturing Day for about 700 students in sixth through ninth grade from 10 different schools. The students come to Vermeer to learn more about manufacturing and what careers are available. The event helps students connect that what they are learning in school — science, technology, math, etc. — to career opportunities that will come after they graduate.
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