by Michael Griffith
Innovation Engineering Specialist, NWIRC

The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte recently released their third skills gap study: The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing 2015 and Beyond. This report suggests that a widening skills gap over the next decade could result in two million manufacturing jobs that will go unfilled. Furthermore, the study reports that 6 out of 10 manufacturing positions today remain unfilled due to the talent shortage, even though executives are willing to pay more than market rates and that industry perception also plays a role. There are several contributing factors to the widening gap – baby boomer retirements and economic expansion are commonly cited, but a lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills among workers is also a factor.  Projected manufacturing skill shortages in the workforce category of engineers shows the most dramatic increase over the next 6 years. The 2014 shortage for engineering skills was 33% and is projected to be as high as 48% by 2020. Seventy-eight percent of manufacturing executives surveyed believe the skills gap will impact their ability to implement new technologies and increase productivity, and 62% indicate it will impact the ability to innovate and develop new products.

Advanced manufacturing engineering apprentices offer a great multi-purpose solution to narrow the gap. They offer the manufacturer opportunities to 1) improve technology development, 2) increase margins, and 3) mentor and evaluate future skilled leaders. The Northwest Industrial Resource Center’s (NWIRC) Advanced Manufacturing Apprentice Program connects manufacturers with regional college and university STEM students for the purpose of developing or implementing technology that will have significant business impact for the manufacturer.  Manufacturers can benefit from wage savings of up to 50% of the apprentice’s base pay for qualifying three (3) to six (6) month projects.Students and 3D Printer

Because many companies lack the resources to cultivate relationships with regional colleges and universities, the NWIRC Innovation Engineering (IE) Specialist assists with the placement process from identifying a project to selecting a candidate. Snapshots of current qualifying projects include: 1) a company seeking a Materials Engineering student to develop a process for evaluating new product materials, 2) another is utilizing a Quality Engineering apprentice to develop a “test project” auditing their ISO documentation, and 3) yet another is utilizing an Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Engineering student to assist compliance with new OSHA Globally Harmonized (GHS) System of Classification, Labelling and Hazard Communication regulations.

The bottom line is to be mindful of the widening skills gap and consider how an advanced engineering apprentice might propel your future growth.

For more details about this program, please visit our website You can also contact me direct at 814-450-9752 or


 Source: The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing 2015 and Beyond, Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte.   Complete study can be found at