Do you sometimes feel like you have a Goldilocks business model? Or perhaps the entire manufacturing sector is in a Goldilocks cycle at the moment? I am basically talking about what some might refer to as feast or famine, but I prefer to use the story of Goldilocks as an example. Baby Bear’s bed was too small and Papa Bear’s bed was too big, but Mama Bear’s bed was just right. Are you wishing for that “just right” economy where your suppliers ship on time, you can hire new staff easily and selectively, and your customers have clear reasonable expectations? Yes, me too. I would like this for Manex, as well as our clients. Trust me, I am not wishing for 2009, because that is when Baby Bear had no bed.

What are we to do? We can’t always have a “just right” economy. Regardless of the future of this hot economy and job growth, the manufacturing industry is poised to change dramatically. Even if you are planning on selling your business in the near future, you need to focus on the people that can make that happen: your employees.

It has been reported that there will 2.4 million open manufacturing positions between 2018 and 2028 – that’s a big number in only nine years. Last year, there were 508,000 open jobs in manufacturing (as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Data, Oxford Economics Model (OEM) Institute Skills research initiative).

In addition to the basic dearth of available people here in California, the skills gap is killing our industry by not having enough job candidates with the right hard and soft skills to fill openings. This makes day-to-day operations difficult and is hammering company growth in a hot economy. In other words, the timing is really bad. An aging workforce, a disinterested new generation, rising housing costs, and longer commutes mean simply that we must find, hire, train, and of course, automate.

According to the 2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap and Future of Work Study completed last year that “hammer” could put $454 billion of manufacturing GDP at risk in 2028 alone.

The number one soft skill that will be required in the digital factory world of tomorrow is critical thinking. As manual tasks fall to machines, humans with uniquely human skills will be in high demand. Critical thinking, creativity, originality, attention to detail, problem-solving, and people management are often regarded as the go-to job skills, and they are. These skills will only grow in importance as we continue to automate and digitize.

According to the same Deloitte study, in addition to critical thinking, we should be developing the following key skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution:

  • Technology and Computer
  • Digital
  • Programming Robots and Automation
  • Working with Tools and Techniques

What’s a Goldilocks to do? We need to move beyond today and instant solutions and think strategically. When demand exceeds your capacity, quick solutions are often used, but hasty decisions rarely work out. Instead, focus on the bigger picture and long-term solutions.

  1. Expand your horizons and engage with California Community Colleges and K-12 schools. is a great place to start and an excellent resource.
  2. Leverage your existing aging workforce. Michelin North America tapped its retirees through extensive exit interviews and later through project work. Retiring employees had the opportunity to sign up for future projects before they walked out the door. The total add was 250 people.
  3. Develop in-house training and develop public-private partnerships by working with Manex, your Northern California manufacturing resource (and a regional partner of NIST-MEP). While our website may seem CEO and ROI focused, our true client is your workforce. We engage and train your team to upskill and get excited about their day.
  4. Utilize an apprentice program! There are many programs available. (For example, Germany’s manufacturing export machine is apprentice driven.) If you have any questions, contact me with your location and I will point you in the right direction.

While things may seem desperate, there are many resources available to you through our partnership page and by having a simple conversation with Manex.

About the Author

Gene Russell is President and CEO of Manex and has over 30 years of senior executive strategic planning, operational management, and consulting experience in the manufacturing and technology sectors. With his extensive knowledge of manufacturing operations, he has developed and implemented key strategic initiatives for companies, allowing them to improve performance and achieve profitable growth. He can be reached at