Does your manufacturing company have a skilled labor shortage? You’re not alone if you do. Demand for manufactured products is high, but the unemployment rate is low. Time isn’t on your side either. Today, 30% of the skilled workers in manufacturing are older than age 55. These Baby Boomers aren’t ready to retire yet, but they won’t stay on your factory floor forever.

Meanwhile, many of today’s students are choosing college or university instead of the skilled trades. Maybe it’s because they think that manufacturing jobs are dangerous, dirty, or boring. Maybe it’s because they’d rather sit at a computer in an air-conditioned office than stand on a concrete floor next to a machine. Some may remember how family members lost jobs to plants closings or down-sizing.

What’s the solution to your skilled labor shortage then? Do you need to wait for new programs to provide workers? Will automation eventually solve your problems instead? These solutions may sound promising, but you can’t keep waiting if you want to keep your customers happy today. You need a solution now. The good news is that you can get it from your supply chain if you know where to look.

Let’s consider your options.

Fill the Skills Gap

Some companies are hoping that the right programs will solve their long-term workforce challenges. They say that STEM education is increasing and that more students are getting excited about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). High schools and even some colleges are offering more skilled trades programs, too.

These developments are encouraging, but how many school years or semesters can you wait before your current workforce is ready for retirement? And you still don’t have enough skilled workers at your factory today. Plant tours, events like Manufacturing Day, and open houses are helping to change attitudes, but what if the workforce of tomorrow still doesn’t want to work in manufacturing?

You can focus on today’s challenges instead, but there’s a cost. Sometimes, manufacturers ask higher-paid employees like welders to perform less-expensive tasks such as gasket cutting. That’s fine if your welders are idle, but they’re probably busy since they’re in short supply. If you’re asking a welder who makes $25/hour to do the work of a $15/hour gasket cutter, your gasket costs are too high.

Automate Manufacturing Operations

Some experts say that automation is the solution to the skilled labor shortage. Instead of paying a worker to cut gaskets, you’ll just automate gasket cutting instead. That makes good business sense if you’re cutting a high volume of gaskets and can realize a return on investment (ROI). But what if your ROI would take many years because your gasket quantities are low? Will your company buy a new robot anyway?

Automation isn’t just about equipment either. Industry 4.0 is a family of technologies that lets you collect, analyze, and share data that adds business value – and then act on it. These cyber-physical systems can make your shop floor faster, more flexible, more productive, and more cost-efficient. Industry 4.0 costs are decreasing, but they’re still too high for some small-to-medium companies.

Unfortunately, acquisition isn’t your only automation-related expense. There’s a cost to comparing new technologies and implementing the right solutions (typically by hiring consultants). You’ll also need to integrate legacy systems and strengthen cybersecurity. That’s why the adoption of automation is usually a gradual process. Meanwhile, you have jobs to run and orders to fill today.

Outsource Fabrication

Fortunately, there’s an alternative to waiting. By outsourcing component fabrication, you can eliminate manual, in-house tasks. You can also stop using more expensive employees (like welders) to complete them. The benefits of outsourced fabrication include reduced material waste, greater consistency, increased productivity, and knowing the true cost of each component.

Yet you’ll need to select a custom fabricator with care – and by considering more than just unit price. Quality, on-time deliveries, responsiveness, and value-added services are all part of the equation. If you’re ready to learn more about outsourced fabrication for industrial rubber products, let’s have a conversation. To get started, contact Elasto Proxy.