Manufacturing: Building the Future Workforce

Although manufacturing is on the rebound, employers have reported a sizeable gap between the talent they need to grow their business and the number of skilled labor workers. Over the next decade, more than three million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled, however, the skills gap is expected to result in roughly two million of those jobs going unfilled.

In an effort to dig a bit more into this issue and determine the trajectory of the skills gap and what manufacturers need to address, Deloitte partnered with the Manufacturing Institute and conducted a skills gap survey.

The Problems

The results of the survey determined that the two major contributing factors to the widening gap are baby boomer retirements and economic expansion. Other factors contributing to the shortage of skilled workforce include loss of knowledge due to job changes, a negative image of the manufacturing industry, lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and a gradual decline of technical education programs in public high schools. They survey also concluded that an estimated 2.7 million jobs will be needed as a result of retirements of the existing workforce, while roughly 700,000 will be created due to natural business growth.

How Caterpillar is addressing the skills gap

Caterpillar is working to address this skilled labor shortage by attending high school and local college career fairs, speaking to Jobs for American Graduates (JAGs) classrooms and giving presentations on how to apply for Caterpillar jobs. Recruiters also went to the Skills USA National competition in Kentucky with recruitment information and have had a presence at various local and national affinity hiring events. Caterpillar has also started advertising trainee welders and trainee machinists in the Peoria area facilities - they join (only needing minimal experience) and we train them.

Caterpillar is also building a pipeline of potential future employees with the desired talent through monetary contributions that sponsor curriculum development, academic competitions and scholarships as well as apprenticeships, internships and employee mentorship programs. 

FIRST Robotics

One academic group that Caterpillar sponsors is called For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology (FIRST), which provides global, mentor-based programs to help students of all ages build STEM skills. The three FIRST programs include FIRST Lego League for students in 4th through 8th grade, FIRST Tech challenge for students in 7th through 12th grade and FIRST Robotics for students in 9th through 12th grade. Through FIRST, students learn about STEM by participating in hands-on activities and competitions. Students are also encouraged to build upon their own experiences and volunteer in the community. Caterpillar champions over 200 FIRST teams around the world, counts 800 employee volunteers, donates over 100,000 hours and reaches 2,500-plus students annually. Many of the FIRST mentees who participated in the pilot program over 10 years ago are now Caterpillar engineers.

Baja SAE

Caterpillar also sponsors the Illinois Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) competition, which was held at the Caterpillar Demonstration and Learning Center this year. Engineering teams spend the academic year designing and building a single-occupant off-road Baja vehicle that is put to the test on an endurance track. More than 100 teams from around the world (one traveled from India) competed in this year’s annual event. It provides hands-on and real-world experience to students in order to help them develop the abilities needed in the manufacturing industry. 

NASA’s 3D Habitat Challenge
This year, Caterpillar sponsored NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge – along with Bechtel, Brick and Mortar Ventures and Bradley University. Responding to the challenge, America’s most talented innovators have been working to find a way to design and print a habitat that could be used for deep space exploration, including the agency’s journey to Mars, as well as have applications on Earth today. At the end of August, teams tested their structural components and competed for the phase two award at the Caterpillar Edwards Demonstration Center. You can learn more about this event here.

Command for Dozing

In 2016, Caterpillar provided a rare opportunity for local high school students to remotely operate a Cat D11T dozer. The machine was at the proving ground in Tucson, Ariz, while the students were outside of building CV in East Peoria, Ill. The command for dozing application was one of the company’s newest applications at the time and the global mining team hosted the students. Prior to operating the dozer, Caterpillar employees sat down with the students to explain the benefits of this technology and the flexibility it offers regarding job locations. 

ACM and ITDD Collaborate With DePaul University to Learn Through the Ideal Classroom

For two and a half months, 14 DePaul students, who are also Caterpillar employees, tinkered away in the Makerspace at Caterpillar’s Global R&D Headquarters in Mossville, Ill., putting their design skills to the test and gaining new skills. These students are enrolled in a custom-built-for Caterpillar physical technologies course offered through DePaul University. Sponsored by ITDD Talent Development, the course addresses Caterpillar’s specific needs, combining several classes and topics that are normally part of the “Design for Physical Technology” minor at DePaul’s top ranked College of Computing and Digital Media. You can click here to learn more about this collaboration initiative.

These are only a few examples of the ways that Caterpillar is addressing the skills gap and developing a pipeline of talented future employees. Through our various internal programs and sponsorships of external programs, Caterpillar is working to build a better world, one employee at a time.