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[January 18, 2019] With the holidays and 2018 now in our rear-view mirror, the ownership and entire team of professional machinists at Advanced Precision Machining want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and thank our customers for their continued support and loyalty. As we reflect upon another successful year of operations and look forward to 2019, we want to take this opportunity to revisit and share with our readership a lingering economic reality still faced by many shops in the milling and machining industry. Despite steadily improving economic conditions and a resurgence in the demand for machine shop services, there is still difficulty in finding experienced CNC machinists and an ever-present skills gap that is stunting the growth and success of many companies. Although the past few years have seen a growing, millennial-driven workforce and access to better vocational, training and educational opportunities, there still remains a shortage of qualified labor.
Here in Colorado, and around the country for that matter, the demand is still high for experienced and entry-level employees specializing in milling, machining, turning and grinding. 2018 has been a record-breaking year throughout the industry. The Gardner Business Index (GBI): Metalworking, an indicator of U.S. machine tool orders (USMTO) from Gardner Intelligence, registered its 23rd consecutive month of expansion in November and the 2018 calendar year will have experienced the fastest expansion rate in history. The Federal Reserve reports that industrial production and capacity utilization continues with its growth, and Gardner’s Capital Spending Survey indicates there will be strong future growth in turning, horizontal machining centers, grinding, vertical machining centers and EDM. Given all of this positive news, and despite being able to weather the gloomy economic storm present just a few years ago, many machine shops still find themselves in the unique situation of overcoming the skills/jobs gap that still exists today.
According to Deloitte’s Skills Gap in US Manufacturing 2015–2025 outlook, 6 out of 10 open production jobs are currently unfilled because of the ongoing talent shortage, and upwards in the range of 2 million manufacturing jobs, including those in milling and machining services, are expected to remain unfilled by the year 2025. The big Baby Boom generation is retiring resulting in a lack of skilled workers, the economy continues to expand, reshoring initiatives are creating more job openings, and younger workers shying away from manufacturing work, thus a surplus of in-demand, skilled workers hasn’t materialized. In fact, it was theorized early on that advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), advanced robotics, automation, analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) would help better manage the shortfall of workers by eliminating jobs. Unfortunately, the opposite occurred. These technologies likely create more jobs than they replaced.
The good news is that today’s manufacturers are taking a multi-faceted approach to solve the problem and bridge the gap, but we’re still in crisis mode. In an increasingly competitive market, and with recent advances in machine shop technology, what’s needed first and foremost is a tech-savvy workforce. While some of the technological advancements listed above have created more jobs, they also have improved predictive maintenance and eliminated some routine tasks, freeing up employees to focus on more important work, while keeping them in the loop and happily employed. It’s also critical to make sure potential new-hires know how to use both existing and emerging technology. An influx of in-shop apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and improved educational opportunities at the high school, vocational, and college level are adding to the growing numbers of available skilled tradespeople. Finally, manufactures are doing a better job of combating the unfound perception that working within the industry is not very glamorous, dirty, and generally reserved for those with lesser education. They’ve also taken more proactive steps by actively recruiting and investing better in innovation and marketing to appeal to future generations of workers.
As we march into 2019, the skills/job gap still requires a lot of attention as manufacturing and orders for CNC machine parts continue to surge, production remains up, and shipping levels continue with robust growth. egardless of how many jobs go unfulfilled due to a combination of factors, the operation of a CNC mill, lathe, or CNC router still remains a highly skilled profession that requires years of specialized training. The bottom line is that thousands of relatively high-paying CNC machine shop jobs are available, but improving economic conditions and better engagement on the part of shop owners, mean that we’re hopefully on our way to winning the skills/job gap battle and continuing with today’s manufacturing renaissance.
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Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised on the emerald isle of Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he and a partner began what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.