Hiring the right personnel in metal fabrication remains one of the industry’s premier challenges. Advancements in technology and an increasing reliance on automation now requires hired operators to arrive with the appropriate skill set or, at the very least, a willingness to learn. Youth must eventually replace skilled labor on the verge of retirement in order to maintain the industry’s progress. Though these hurdles are far from small, the outlook for metal fabrication — and manufacturing as a whole — is still healthy in the face of a global economy.
Despite Perception, Hiring for Steel Fabrication Isn’t in A Tailspin
Contrary to perception, hiring in manufacturing isn’t as bleak as people believe. In July of this year, manufacturers posted 379,000 job openings (a 280 percent
increase since the economic depression of 2008-09). Though the number of job openings has skyrocketed, the number of hires falls considerably lower than the number of openings. The Wall Street Journal suggests manufacturers can’t find the skilled labor required to fill more technically intensive jobs. This, however, doesn’t tell the entire story, especially considering, according to Five Thirty Eight, 80 percent of manufacturing production workers have neither an associate’s degree, nor bachelor’s degree and manufacturing has one of the lowest certification rates. Manufacturing opportunities, in short, still exist in solid numbers.
AUTOMATION CAN'T BE UNDERESTIMATED, HOWEVER
Even though the manufacturing outlook isn't as bleak as one might assume, the influence of automation can't be overlooked. This influence far exceeds the effect on unemployment in the U.S. from outsourcing overseas. The truth of the matter is that, while real output for manufacturers is higher than it's ever been, employment has been steadily declining for decades. The only way for such a disparity between output and employment to exist is the increased presence of automation. As noted in Technology Review, Boston Consulting Group reported that it costs $8 to use a robot for spot welding in the auto industry, compared to $25 for a worker (and the gap is widening). What this does mean is that the workers that are hired must be familiar with programming and operating the machines as they evolve. This will result in a leaner, but more technically savvy workforce in steel fabrication.
Hiring Youth as a Top Priority
One issue not unique to custom metal fabrication is the need to attract more Millennials to the workforce. As baby boomers nudge ever closer to retirement age, the need to involve youth is paramount to metal fabrication’s progress. In order to reach this goal, changing Millennials’ perception of metal fabrication is one of the first items on the collective industry agenda. University and trade school outreach will also be needed to grow awareness of skilled positions within custom metal fabrication and OEM manufacturing.
Custom Metal Fabrication is Accessible for Those Willing to Learn
There’s no question that the battle for experienced workers in custom metal fabrication and OEM manufacturing is fierce. Now that more skilled labor is nearing retirement age, on-site training has grown a new level of importance. So long as rookies who join the metal fabrication industry are willing to learn, there are many opportunities for them to get up to speed quickly. Given the number of vacant job openings seen industry-wide, it’s an obligation of OEMs and metal fabricators to open their doors to those ready to join.
This post was previously published on 12/12/16, but has since been updated with latest industry developments.