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Analysis

Bridging the manufacturing and construction skills gap

Supporting worker success in the age of automation

The increasing use of technology and automation across industries like manufacturing and construction will give rise to both great advances and a growing mismatch between the supply of labor and demand for skills. To address this skills gap and achieve the most positive outcome for companies, workers, and society as a whole, we must understand how to help the workforce—particularly those workers who have specialized job skills but not a traditional four-year degree—leverage new technological tools and adapt to the changing nature of work

Understanding the growing skills gap

Across the United States, millions of people are working but still struggling to get ahead. At the same time, employers are trying to fill millions of job openings, but many are struggling to find workers with the right skills. This is the result of a fundamental mismatch between the supply of labor and demand for skills. This skills gap is a challenge for everyone—and it’s likely to worsen as cognitive technologies and automation become more widespread.

This report is a joint endeavor by the Autodesk Foundation* and Monitor Institute by Deloitte. In it, we describe what we have learned from our inquiry into the challenges that underlie the skills gap in the US construction and manufacturing industries, focusing on workers who have specialized job skills but not a traditional four-year degree. It is the product of secondary research and interviews with thought leaders and experts in construction, manufacturing, future of work, and workforce development, as well as primary input gathered from actual workers, in late 2018.

About Monitor Institute by Deloitte
Monitor Institute by Deloitte is a social impact consultancy within Deloitte LLP that works with businesses, philanthropies, and nonprofits to advance progress on pressing societal challenges.

About the Autodesk Foundation
The Autodesk Foundation's mission is to support the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. This includes challenges posed by automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning that are disrupting the way things are designed and made at an unprecedented rate.

The factors behind the manufacturing and construction skills gap

In speaking with subject matter experts in construction, manufacturing, workforce development, and the future of work, and with workers themselves, most agree that we are likely to experience a future in which the manufacturing and construction skills gap continues to grow and in which the accelerating pace of technological innovation will necessitate a continually evolving mix of soft and technical skills as well as continuous learning models. While questions remain about the pace at which these shifts will occur, their nature, and how the industry will respond, it is clear that companies and workers will experience significant disruption.

The question at the center of our work was: How can actors committed to the American workforce support US-based construction and manufacturing workers with specialized job skills but not a traditional four-year degree? While many discussions related to this topic center on effectively preparing these workers for the age of automation with specific skills and competencies, our research confirms that focusing on skills alone is not enough. It is important to think about the manufacturing and construction skills gap more holistically, considering the challenges, gaps, and opportunities that exist across the full workforce and employment ecosystem.

Our research revealed that without sufficient investment in human capital, not enough qualified workers will enter the construction and manufacturing industries to keep pace with growth. This broadly reflects the supply side of the labor market. On the other hand, we learned that unless companies leverage their human capital to maximize return on new technologies (as opposed to prioritizing cost reduction), the skills gap cannot be eliminated, and non-college-educated workers would be left particularly vulnerable. Concomitantly, this reflects the demand side of the labor market. Moreover, with no common language around skills and no reliable means for verifying qualifications, it is hard to match workers to jobs. And at the systemic level, public policy to address the multifaceted “social determinants of work” is not keeping pace with the changing nature of work and the workforce.

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Eight opportunity areas for bridging the skills gap

Based on our exploration of trends and uncertainties surrounding the future of automation in construction and manufacturing, the challenges facing workers with specialized job skills but not a traditional four-year degree, and the intersection of these two topics, we have identified a set of eight opportunity areas, loosely mapped to different parts of the ecosystem depicted below.

Building the bridge

Success across these eight diverse areas requires the involvement of a wide variety of stakeholders, including government, companies, educational institutions, worker organizations, and other workforce development actors. We hope this report can serve as a starting place for understanding the multidimensional challenge and potential areas for intervention. And while this report is focused on the construction and manufacturing industries, we believe that its insights can be applied broadly, stimulating discussion and action to address the skills gap within a number of different industries.

Man standing on a construction site

About our research
Between September and December 2018, a Monitor Institute by Deloitte team reviewed more than 50 field reports; interviewed dozens of subject matter experts in construction, manufacturing, workforce development, and future of work; crowdsourced input from 53 workers; surveyed more than 1,100 Autodesk University participants about the future of work; and engaged in rich discussions during a scenario workshop. This report represents the culmination of what we learned about the skills gap and what can be done to address it. 

* Autodesk and the Autodesk Foundation are registered trademarks of Autodesk, Inc., and/or its subsidiaries and/or affiliates in the USA and/or other countries. Learn more about the Autodesk Foundation.

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