Welder employment

Boiler Manufacturers Must Close the Employment Gap

Stressing opportunity, education and innovation, firms must really ratchet up their recruitment efforts ASAP to attract next-generation talent.

By SCOTT LYNCH, CEO, American Boiler Manufacturers Association

Ask any boiler manufacturer to share three issues impacting their company and workforce challenges will be near the top of most of their lists. The American Boiler Manufacturers Association (ABMA) and its member companies have engaged to move the needle in a positive direction, but studies show there are major headwinds on the horizon.

I recently came across a report done a few years ago by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) that shared a bleak outlook for the next decade:

  • 2.7 million baby boomers will retire from manufacturing;
  • 700,000 new manufacturing jobs will be created;
  • Approximately 3.5 million such jobs will need to be filled.

Here is the scary part: The report states that 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled due to the talent shortage and the skills gap in manufacturing. A simple explanation for the skills gap is when no one is applying for a job that has the proper skills set to do it. Of course, a company can hire someone less skilled and potentially train them, but in many cases, the gap is just too wide to invest.

Inundated with demand, the manufacturing sector is poised for a renaissance.

If there are numerous job openings in manufacturing, why are talented individuals not interested in these opportunities?

The report notes that an incorrect perception of manufacturing persists: that a job in manufacturing is low-tech, dangerous, dirty and low-paying work. This means that when the younger generation of workers starts deciding their career and education path, they choose to go elsewhere, and take their future skills with them.

Unless you work in manufacturing, or are a relative or friend of someone in this sector, you have no understanding of today’s manufacturing and how impactful the U.S. manufacturing sector is to our economy. Industries, like the boiler industry, have a greater challenge because in many cases, even those in manufacturing don’t know us.

Marvels of Modern Manufacturing

The reality is that modern manufacturing and the future Industry 4.0 is an entirely different thing from the image of a turn-of-the-20th-century assembly line factory. Manufacturing today is at the forefront of technology and modern innovation with the use of robotics, computers, data analytics, IoT, product design and 3D printing. Manufacturing needs to be better at telling our stories.

ABMA is in the early stages of expanding its focus on workforce development. In 2012, we established a Scholarship Fund (later named for former ABMA President Randy Rawson) to promote the boiler industry to students in engineering and fabrication. What started with funding for a few students per year has grown into a very impactful program. In 2017, 16 students received financial support from ABMA and the Fund has paid out more than $150,000 in scholarships since its inception. But while the Fund has successfully recognized engineering students, the area of fabrication has been a challenge.

Our aging workforce is retiring much faster than it can be replaced.

In 2017, ABMA established an endowed scholarship through the American Welding Society (AWS) that will be given annually to welding students at Lone Star College in Houston, TX. We are pleased to share that the first recipient will be announced this month.

ABMA is pleased with the success of the Rawson Scholarship Fund and the establishment of the AWS scholarship, but more needs to be done.

The next phase of our efforts is focused on the educational institutions to ensure that students completing their programs are prepared for careers in our industry, ultimately working towards narrowing the skills gap.

In addition to engaging the educational institutions, ABMA is creating promotional materials for the boiler industry that share the exciting innovations in our industry and the opportunities ahead for those who join us. 

At the end of each academic year, I reach out to scholarship recipients and ask them to share an update on their progress toward graduation. We are always excited when students accept internships at ABMA member companies. But this year, one of our students is graduating with a mechanical engineering degree and has accepted a full-time job with one of our companies. 

Another step in the right direction.

Based in Vienna VA, the author was named ABMA President & CEO in June 2014. In that role, he oversees the day-to-day operations of ABMA and partners with its Board of Directors to map out the new strategic direction for the group. 

For more details on our workforce development efforts, please visit www.abma.com.  

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