Our biggest challenge

Every time I talk for very long with a plant engineer, it seems, the conversation turns to the problem of skilled workers -- and the lack thereof. In every survey we conduct about the problems of plant engineers, training is at or near the top.


Every time I talk for very long with a plant engineer, it seems, the conversation turns to the problem of skilled workers -- and the lack thereof. In every survey we conduct about the problems of plant engineers, training is at or near the top.

The problem is not exclusive to plant engineering and maintenance, of course. A recent study of more than 1000 plants by the National Association of Manufacturers concluded that the weakest dimension of U.S. manufacturers' continued ability to lead the world is the education, training, and skill level of the U.S. workforce.

In another study of 4500 manufacturers conducted not long ago by Grant Thornton and the NAM, 63% of respondents indicated improvements are needed in their workers' basic job skills, 60% in basic math skills, and 55% in basic written language/ comprehension skills. Overall, about nine out of 10 manufacturers who participated in the survey stated that job applicants are seriously lacking in basic skills. And more than one-fourth of the companies regularly reject more than 75% of applicants as unqualified.

You've probably run across data similar to these before. You may feel like they're based on your plant's experiences. And of course, the education dilemma has been a national embarrassment and political issue for years. But that's just the point. The situation doesn't seem to be getting any better. For industry to grow and improve, therefore, it must pick up the slack.

While many companies are responding to the challenge, the NAM reports that less than half of all manufacturers spend 2% or more of payroll to train their shop floor and other hourly employees. The NAM concludes that this is not good enough, and it has called on its members to put more energy and resources into worker training.

The payoffs for this kind of investment can be substantial. First, a workforce that can understand and use technological advances supports growth. According to Jerry J. Jasinowski, president and CEO of NAM, it is reasonable to say that technological advances account for roughly two-thirds of productivity growth in the 1990s, or about one-third of overall growth in nonfarm business. This growth is not possible without a skilled, trained workforce.

Second, education raises productivity. In manufacturing, according to the NAM, a 1-yr increase in the educational level of workers equals an 8.5% hike in productivity. That's a pretty good return, I'd say, and one you might keep in mind next time you're reviewing your training budget.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
May 2018
Electrical standards, robots and Lean manufacturing, and how an aluminum packaging plant is helping community growth.
April 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
February 2018
Focus on power systems, process safety, electrical and power systems, edge computing in the oil & gas industry
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

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