Manufacturing Needs STEM Candidates More Than Ever

Joe Weinlick
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High-tech advances in automation and robotics have led to the creation of a different kind of manufacturing employee. Instead of grunt work and labor on the production floor, employees need to have a working knowledge of IT, robotics, electronics, engineering and computer programming. As such, the manufacturing sector needs college graduates with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as STEM.


People with a background in STEM have the knowledge to understand the background of physical processes that create products from raw materials. Machines have to work properly to turn belts, levers and smaller components to keep lines moving. Manufacturers are more than willing to pay top dollar for people with the right amount of training, education and expertise to work in plants.

As automation becomes more advanced due to wireless technology, workers need to know how to connect machines to computers. Employees must also understand the coding behind the machines and the physical processes these machines accomplish. Plant workers fix and maintain these automated machines so the plant runs smoothly.

Why More Workers Now?

In 2014, manufacturers had 600,000 unfilled positions. Experts believe this number may grow to 2 million by 2025. Manufacturers have the money to fill these jobs but not enough workers to fill them. One of the main reasons cited is the lack of people with STEM training. In addition to working with machines, STEM candidates also have the necessary education to help research and development departments with new products.

Chemical and mechanical engineers work together to create innovative products for health care, pharmaceutical and electronics companies. These items reach consumers to improve the quality of life. Creating these products relies increasingly on innovative processes that merge various kinds of technology.

For example, a new wearable device that measures a person's heart rate needs to have research and development from both the medical and technology fields. The device should properly calibrate to a person's body while maintaining electrical power. The product may also have a wireless connection to a nearby smartphone or wireless network. The item needs a transmitter and the correct computer programming to connect to other devices. An employee with a background in STEM can help iron out any design difficulties with this product but also assist in the mechanical processes that put this new product together on an assembly line.

Innovation Moving Forward

Manufacturers also need workers with creativity and strong problem-solving skills to innovate new hardware and computer software. Innovation creates new products, new ways of doing things and more efficient manufacturing processes. Advanced tools, such as 3-D printers and on-demand manufacturing, offer two ways that innovation can change the way manufacturers create products for consumers. Students must become interested in the technology behind these processes early in life.

How to Solve the Problem

Unfortunately, many school children in the United States lag far behind other countries in terms of strong math and science skills. Experts within the manufacturing sector believe getting young people interested in STEM careers is one way to alleviate shortages 10, 20 and 30 years down the road. It starts with problem-solving skills in elementary school. When kids realize solving a problem with many variables is fun, they move on to more advanced STEM concepts. Instead of thinking of problem solving as a difficult challenge, kids can easily grab some tools and start working on a project.

For example, one school in Green Bay, Wisconsin, held an engineering and science summer camp that encourages kids to make cars out of paper and catapults out of spring-loaded mousetraps. These same teenagers created robots using computer software. A local paper interviewed enthusiastic parents who said their children did not want to leave camp at the end of the day.

Another solution for teens interested in a college-level education includes open online courses and formal university classes hosted online. Much like students who innovate new manufacturing processes, the educational programs that teach the students must also come up with creative ways to get students interested in STEM fields. Without interest from children in the present, manufacturers may find it hard to fill positions far into the future.

Manufacturing needs more STEM candidates to move into unfilled positions as soon as possible, but even more so in the coming decades. As more baby boomers retire, companies must find ways to innovate educational opportunities for kids so they remain interested in STEM careers later in life.

Photo Courtesy of Akeeris at


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  • Cory L.
    Cory L.

    I listened to a podcast the other day about how technology creates jobs that take care of the technology we create. It made me reconsider the way I've looked at manufacturing jobs, and how often they are relegated as non-specialized skills. It makes me wish I had looked into a trade when I was younger, and I'd certainly suggest more people look into STEM.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Question: so, we all know that here in America, the capitalist system relies on basically never-ending growth of one sort or another. If I go back to school and complete a STEM degree so that I can contribute to the burgeoning manufacturing sector once again, am I liable to lose my job in the future if and when supply outweighs demand in the production industry? I can't help wondering if we'll see a "manufacturing bubble" in the next ten years or so.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    I agree that education is the key to developing workers with a strong STEM foundation, but I think middle school really is a key area that need more focus. Many elementary school students are excited about science and problem solving, but during the middle school years, fewer and fewer enroll in more difficult science and math coursework. By high school, many students feel that those are not areas they want to pursue. I think more fun STEM courses for middle school students paired with better information about modern manufacturing careers would lead to students taking the coursework necessary to advance into the field.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    I believe that the power to drive future innovative technologies lies in the hands of the young generation. That's why I totally agree that for the manufacturing industry to acquire a workforce braced with skills in science, technology, engineering and math, training has to start all the way from elementary school. However caution has to be taken not to overdo it to the extent of segregating students with inclinations elsewhere.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    While I agree that the focus on STEM is valuable in the manufacturing industry, I think that employers are neglecting to see the benefit of applicants who excel in creative areas as well. Encouraging a diverse pool of employees is important to merge strengths on the job.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @Abbey, I don't think other fields will shrink if more students concentrate their studies in STEM specialties. In my opinion, too many people, especially women underperform in math and science. STEM simply educates us about the world around us, so there is nothing wrong with increasing knowledge in these areas for everyone. STEM focused education would expand options for more people, but some people would still choose to work in fields where STEM knowledge isn't the core focus.

  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    In addition to encouraging people to pursue training and education in STEM, I think companies should also offer training opportunities to existing employees. I have a friend who works for a manufacturing company as a shift manager and she is constantly complaining that she doesn't have enough qualified people to run the equipment. She has also suggested numerous times that the company institute more comprehensive training for employees. Unfortunately, the company continues to post job openings and then hiring only when they find people with the right mix of education and experience. Very little on-the-job training is offered. I guess the company hopes that over time underqualified employees will eventually move on to other jobs or retire so new, better educated employees can take their places.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Laura thank you for that. I have seen the segments on the news and think it's really great. It sure is nice to have a "young" family in the White House to address issues like this. In the past, the only place that you might find a woman in these fields is if they were teaching it in school or even in college. Most of the technology/engineering jobs were filled by men - but not sure why. Maybe that women were not accepted in those areas? @William I think that issues like STEM are becoming more popular and that it will continue. Colleges are starting to offer more programs geared towards local industries in their area. This allows the college and the manufacturer to work closely together to teach what is needed and to have graduates ready to hit the ground running. Win-win for all.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    How do you think the industry may change in the coming years to attract more workers? It almost seems as if manufacturers don't take the initiative fast enough to bring in the workers they need. The best ones adapt more quickly and get the right types of workers, whereas those that don't seem to lag behind and wallow in mediocrity.

  • Laura Winzeler
    Laura Winzeler

    I was interested to recently learn that although women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce, we hold only one-quarter of the jobs in STEM fields. Being the parents of two seemingly intelligent young women, the President and First Lady have taken an interest in several initiatives, including the Equal Futures Partnership, in hopes of opening more doors to high-quality education and high-paying career opportunities with the goal of attracting and retaining more females in STEM fields.

  • Shaday Stewart
    Shaday Stewart

    @Jane H, I definitely agree that educators and employers need to put more emphasis on vocational education. One of my siblings pursued vocational schooling in the IT field years ago and found that many employers wouldn't consider anyone without a college degree, despite his extensive skills (i.e. This is someone who built a computer as a teenager). That is finally starting to change, but employers have to realize that STEM careers, especially engineering, often require years of schooling to compete, which is a major turn-off for people from low-income families. I think a lot of young people would be more inclined to explore these careers if they could start working sooner and earning for their families. It might be useful for companies to start programs that foster vocationally trained workers, helping them transition to higher level jobs and pursue more education as they go along. I know some exist, and there are more STEM scholarships now than ever before, but maybe not enough to bridge the gap.

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I have to respectfully disagree with one point you made. When you say, "grunt work and labor on the production floor," I feel that doesn't give sufficient credit to the skilled labor force we also need that makes these plants operate. There is so much push to get kids to pursue STEM at the university level, and yet, a lot of kids aren't really cut out for that. Along with college degrees there also needs to be a push towards getting more kids to pursue vocational-technical certificates.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Abbey thanks for the comment. Not all youth will pursue STEM. Only those who have the aptitude will pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or math. The same as it has always been. The difference today is that more colleges/universities are offering STEM type degrees than in the past.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I understand the increasing demand for employees with STEM backgrounds. I also wonder what is going to happen to other fields if we push our children to pursue these STEM degrees. Are other areas of the workforce going to suffer if we put too much emphasis into the STEM category?

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