The Gap in Manufacturing Skills

Manufacturing is in the midst of a growing skills gap.

In the next decade, analysts expect 2.2 million jobs in advanced manufacturing to go unfilled for lack of adequately trained labor.

Graph of manufacturing job openings over the past 10 years
Job openings in manufacturing from Jan. 2009 to Jan. 2019 in hundreds of thousands by year. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Here, we’ve drawn on our experience with leading manufacturers as well as the best recent research to give you a list of the skills that advanced manufacturing needs most.

What Skills Does Manufacturing Need?

We found that the most needed skills are (in no order):

  1. Digital Fluency
  2. Ability to Writing and Understand Code
  3. Ability to Program Manufacturing Specific Machines and Devices
  4. Experience in Machining, Fabricating, and Complex Assembly
  5. Big Data Analytics
  6. Robotics
  7. Soft Skills
  8. Industry-Specific Credentials
Advanced manufacturing skills that require training
Advanced Manufacturing skills that require training

Many of these skills require advanced training.

In a recent survey, the World Economic Forum found that the following emerging skillsets require training:

  1. Data analytics
  2. Technical equipment/operational skills
  3. Use of digital tools
  4. Programming and coding
  5. Communication, collaboration, and change management
  6. Problem-solving
  7. Translation of business needs to digital
  8. Quality
  9. Cybersecurity

Let’s look at each of these manufacturing skills and skill groups in more detail.

The Skills Manufacturing Needs Most

Digital Fluency

While not all manufacturing jobs will require extensive training in software development or IT, they will require expertise with digital technologies and digital systems. Indeed, four out of five areas of ability outlined in a skills report compiled by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte involve digital fluency.

With the advent of no-code platforms in manufacturing, there are more ways than ever for digitally capable workers to make an impact without needing to be able to write production-ready code.

All workers would do well to improve their facility with hardware and software, digital networks, and manufacturing-related digital tools.

Coding/Software Development

It’s now a tech truism that software is eating the world. It’s equally true that software is eating the shop floor.

A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that software development is the fastest-growing skill in manufacturing. This makes sense, as more manufacturers than ever are turning toward digital solutions that call for application developers, integration specialists, and workers who can program PLCs, MES, and other manufacturing-specific machines and devices.

The Right Kind of Programming

It’s not enough to suggest that production workers learn to code (the Silicon Valley mantra “learn to code, bro” is thoroughly unhelpful here). It’s more important to outline specific types of programming that are needed in manufacturing so that workers can re-skill into stable jobs.

Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute found that there is a dire need for workers who can use CAD/CAM software, workers with experience creating and modifying CNC programs, and workers able to learn and operate sophisticated engineering software.

Experience with Manufacturing Specific Processes and Techniques

Not all of the most necessary manufacturing skills are digital. In fact, some of the most needed skills in manufacturing are those that require deep experience on the shop floor. In a recent study, many manufacturers reported difficulty finding workers who were proficient enough to operate manufacturing machines, and trouble finding workers experienced enough to succeed in the highly complex world of modern discrete manufacturing.

Big Data Analytics

The modern manufacturing plant generates more data than ever before. More and more, manufacturers are going to find a competitive advantage hidden within massive data sets.

It should be no surprise, then, that more manufacturers than ever are hiring data scientists. For manufacturing to stay competitive, organizations are going to need to recruit capable analysts from schools and find ways to help experienced workers develop facility with large data sets, basic machine learning, and statistical analysis.


Robots aren’t going to replace humans any time soon. That doesn’t mean, however, that they aren’t already a common presence on the shop floor.

With the growing ubiquity of robots and cobots, manufacturers need workers who are able to program and repair those robots. Indeed, companies that over-invested in automation without considering the hidden costs of every robot have done so with disastrous consequences.

Soft Skills

For all of its mechanical complexities, manufacturing is in many ways still a human industry. Humans are everywhere in manufacturing, making, marketing, selling, coordinating, and everything in between.

For this reason, the leading analysts agree that soft skills like critical thinking, interpersonal relationship building, ability to manage others, persuasion, and empathy will only grow more important in the years to come. Many think that the greatest leaps forward will come to manufacturers who learn how to amplify workers’ soft skills with digital tools.

Managing messy human relationships is one of the most important manufacturing skills today.

Industry-Specific Credentials

In some ways, there’s no substitute for years of experience in manufacturing. This is especially true in manufacturing, where workers develop deep, idiosyncratic knowledge about their particular operations.

A recent survey of hundreds of thousands of job postings in manufacturing found that there’s a consistent need for workers with industry certifications in Lean methodology, Six Sigma, ISO regulations, and a host of other industry credentials.

One thing manufacturers can do to keep their workforce competitive over time is to offer employees ways to earn these certifications on the job.


Closing the skills gap isn’t something that one worker or one firm can do alone. But manufacturers and individuals can do their part by helping retrain and recruit workers for the skills on this list.

Tulip helps manufacturers train and retrain their workforce to keep everyone competitive. If you’re interested in how Tulip can enhance your training, get in touch for a free demo.

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