We are hiring! The European manufacturing industry looks for STEM graduates

January 30, 2017 // By Dr. John Mitchell
Manufacturing gets a bad rap. Today’s advanced manufacturing companies require engaged, intelligent and highly-trained workers. Those working at these cutting-edge facilities would scarcely recognize the old assembly lines from the 1950s.

And yet, manufacturers today cannot find enough trained workers to fill their open positions, with estimates that 2 million manufacturing jobs will remain vacant over the next decade.

As President and CEO of IPC, an association that represents the global electronics manufacturing industry, I have seen first-hand the struggles our member companies are having in recruiting and retaining talent as they navigate the complex manufacturing of things like aerospace materials, biomedical technology and flexible microchips, not to mention operating and maintaining increasingly complex machines and systems used to produce their goods.

A survey of our member companies in 2015 found that 72 percent of electronics manufacturers believed there was a labor shortage in the industry, and two-thirds had difficulty recruiting production workers and engineers over the past two years. A more recent survey of our European members this year showed similar trends.

According to the European Commission’s estimates, 40 percent of European employers report that they cannot find people with the right skills to grow and innovate. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals – the so-called STEM professionals -- are among the top five skill shortage occupations in the EU, along with ICT professionals, medical doctors, nurses and midwives, and teachers, according to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP). This skills shortage is a major concern for our industry in Europe and globally.

Closing this STEM skills gap requires a new approach to education with an emphasis on three components: early education; STEM education; and apprenticeships.

STEM topics and career opportunities fail to attract enough young people. They suffer from an image deficit which is deeply rooted in our cultures. We need early childhood education to better inspire youth, getting them interested in and excited about STEM topics in elementary and lower secondary education.

Going further, educators, business leaders and parents should embrace and destigmatize apprentice and vocational training programs in fields such as advanced manufacturing, robotics, and computer programming. Too often, vocational training is seen as the “second-best” option when students are not well suited for university. Even in countries where the vocational training infrastructure is of top-quality, this stigma remains.