We are in the middle of very strange economic times. Many of the traditional indicators are providing contradictory results. Are we in a boom, a recession, or both? Inflation is impacting everyone, yet people continue to make purchases. Despite some newsworthy layoffs, employment numbers remain strong. And, based off the many discussions I’ve had with photonics leaders throughout the year, orders remain strong, but the ability to fill orders in a timely manner is frustratingly like traversing an obstacle course.
According to the results of a survey fielded earlier this year across the executives in Laser Focus World’s audience, the most pressing issues facing organizations today are crystal-clear: ongoing supply chain concerns, a lack of qualified workers, and struggles to navigate growth opportunities. It’s true, we have been hearing about these challenges for a while now—at least since the pandemic rattled the global economy.
How are these lingering challenges impacting manufacturers? Survey respondents said they are either significantly or very significantly inhibiting the ability to grow (58%), impacting the organization’s competitiveness (57%), and limiting innovation (55%). Each of these consequences are interrelated. It’s hard to grow when the help wanted sign continues to hang and the supply chain struggles; being able to innovate requires people focused on the future, and being sustainably competitive often.
History tells us the supply chain issues will ultimately find resolution. Yet, the ongoing workforce challenges are not going away on their own. This is especially true when so many highly skilled workers are either retiring or nearing retirement with nowhere near enough people ready (or willing) to take their place. Depending on research, the number of engineers needed by 2024 ranges from 180,000 to 240,000.
Filling that many seats is a tall task—and educational institutions alone cannot accomplish the goal of reinforcing the workforce. They need partnerships from industry. For sustainable results, the efforts need to start young. Providing funding for STEM initiatives undeniably helps, as does enhancing the appeal at much younger ages.
This is not new. Partnerships have long been the lifeblood of any successful program or initiative at the associate or technical degree level. Community colleges depend heavily on guidance and investment from local industry. It’s the strength of these partnerships that ultimately fine-tunes focus and improves the ability to prepare workers.
If we want to solve the workforce issues, we intensify the battle cry and continue to invest in the future.