Logistics manager posing in warehouse

Manufacturing is ripe with employment opportunities, but you might be surprised at what it takes to get an edge when applying for a job in an industry once dominated by wrenches and sockets.

Wes Ashworth from Lee Group Search shared his success tips for employees looking to move up the ladder in today’s cutting edge, highly innovative manufacturing world.

Just getting started in the field? These ideas will help you achieve, too.

“Technology isn’t replacing you,” stressed Ashworth, Vice President Executive Search. “It’s just requiring you to increase your skillset.”

Think digital

Industry certifications aren’t just for IT techs. Increased factory automation continues to change what companies want from their employees.

Jobs that once relied on hands-on labor now focus on tech abilities. Many of today’s opportunities blend industrial technology and engineering capabilities with the more traditional manufacturing skillset, which includes machining and welding.

“The biggest shift is tech savviness across the board,” Ashworth said.

In today’s “new-collar” manufacturing jobs, workers oversee operations in areas that range from engineering to pharmaceuticals. A baseline understanding of computer technology is critical. Learning how to work with data analytics and mastering software quickly are desired skills.

“The beautiful thing is knowledge is so readily available,” Ashworth said.

Most community colleges and technical schools offer certification programs that take weeks or months, not years, to complete. Often certification classes are 100% online or meet in the evenings. It’s up to an applicant to take the initiative.

Ashworth also encourages employees to take advantage of any training employers offer so they can position themselves for promotion and increased opportunity.

“The good news in all of this is that these are now higher paying jobs,” Ashworth said. If you’re looking to succeed in manufacturing, it’s well worth the nominal expense and time commitment to make yourself more marketable.

Where do I start?

Where do you want to go? Manufacturing departments have their own specialties. In maintenance, for example, there is an increased focus on reliability and predictive maintenance. Computer programs predict problems with machinery rather than relying on troubleshooting after they break down.

“There are all sorts of reliability certifications out there to help you learn and understand a more proactive approach to maintenance,” Ashworth said.

The entirety of supply chain is in need of employees able to make proactive decisions based on data and analytics to prevent an issue that could later cause production delays.

A candidate seeking an overall general foundation can find it with Lean Six Sigma training. The data-driven methodology of improvement prioritizes bottom line results by reducing waste and increasing efficiency. Plug the term into a Google search and you’ll find dozens of learning options from online to university programs to the book “Lean Six Sigma for Dummies.”

Associate degrees in mechatronics or robotics also give job applicants a leg up on the competition. “The investment in yourself is well worth it,” he said.

Millennial edge

Today’s millennials grew up gaming and using mobile devices for every imaginable task. Who knew all those hours in front of a screen could pay off? Turns out millennials have an edge if they plan to pursue a manufacturing career.

Generations Y and Z adapt easily to rapidly changing technology, too, making them even more marketable.

Evaluating situations based on data analytics and generating out-of-the-box ideas impress today’s employer, Ashworth said. On the other hand, more mature workers willing to embrace the new technology can offer perspective often lacking in the younger generation.

“You want to be able to see where the trends are going and keep up with them,” Ashworth said.

Think about it.

Show you can increase efficiency, reduce scrap, increase output. Don’t underestimate brain power if you want to achieve in a manufacturing position.

“All of those things can’t happen without someone who is very skilled at critical thinking,” Ashworth said. Advanced problem-solving capabilities impact a candidate’s upward trajectory.

“Getting down to the root cause of a problem and then creating a permanent, proactive solution are important,” Ashworth said. “The critical thinking piece and continuous improvement mindset are definitely out there.”

Closing the gap

Manufacturing employers face a worrisome skills gap that continues to widen. It’s estimated that 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next decade, yet 2.4 million jobs will remain vacant due to a lack of trained workers.

Employees with critical thinking skills and industry certifications will remain in high demand. To close the gap, take stock of your abilities and add to your own tool kit by taking a proactive approach.

“If you want to pick these skills up, you can,” Ashworth said. “If you want to and it’s something you are passionate about, you can figure out how to do it.”

The payoff will be worth it. Manufacturing jobs are plentiful, particularly if you have the skillset that aligns with employer needs.

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