In numerous conversations with manufacturers throughout South Florida, we frequently hear, “I cannot find the skilled workers I need.” While the needed skill levels and specific skill sets vary, the issue is pervasive across all segments of the local manufacturing industry, including medical devices, life sciences, aero tech, fabricated metals & materials, food processing, and the marine industry.
In November, we convened a forum between manufacturers and higher-education representatives from Broward County to address this issue. The South Florida Manufacturers Association (SFMA) also participated. Other participants included:
What was most surprising to learn is that so many of these educational and training institutions already have specific programs geared towards manufacturers.
A Growing Industry
From the manufacturers, we learned that the industry is growing and that manufacturing companies are being solicited to relocate to Southeast Florida, especially by economic development organizations like the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.
Manufacturing companies are facing the challenge of an aging workforce. They said that in their efforts to attract new, younger skilled workers they must overcome the perception of old, dirty manufacturing shop floors. The technical skills they are looking for run the gamut, including:
- Certifications with specific shop floor machines
- Hands-on computer/high-tech skills
- Electro/mechanical skills
- Wood-work and cabinetry skills
- Food assembly, culinary skills, FDA compliance
- Cut and sew, and other highly repetitive activities that require keen attention to detail
Also interesting is that some manufacturers have already engaged with area colleges, technical centers, and the SFMA to hire workers as well as to train their existing workforce. In addition, many of the manufacturers have taken advantage of federal and state grants that help pay for this incumbent worker training.
Lack of Soft Skills
Another issue that manufacturers discussed was the difficulty in finding workers with desired soft skills, such as tinkering, which fuels innovation and creativity. Many noted that the new workforce doesn’t seem to tinker (i.e., disassemble and re-assemble/repair electro-mechanical devices) anymore. However, we learned that Broward Technical Centers offers a tinkering shop class. Those students are exactly the kind of workers that certain manufacturers want to hire – those who are passionate about figuring out how things work and why.
Other desired soft skills include:
- Oral and written communication skills
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Desire to perform quality work
- Customer service orientated/people skills
Manufacturers need to partner educators to help develop their future workers. Engaging with high schools by hosting on-site visits where students can see the production process can help motivate students to choose a career in the manufacturing industry. For example, HEICO Corporation has brought in local high schools to see their floor shop – and it’s definitely not your typical manufacturing site. In addition, local colleges and technical centers urged manufacturers to provide internships to students, and even professors so they can have real-work experience to share with their students.
We hope to continue the conversation between manufacturers and educators and help them work together to improve the local workforce and economy, making South Florida an even more attractive location for manufacturing companies in the years to come.
Mike Moore is a director of business advisory services in Kaufman, Rossin’s Miami office. Kaufman, Rossin & Co. is one of the best CPA firms in the country. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.