The Manufacturing Skills Gap

Leading manufacturers are solving the skills gap using augmented reality to improve training, safety, and retention.

What is the manufacturing skills gap?


The manufacturing skills gap is a collection of challenges that impact manufacturers across industries. Experts are retiring and taking knowledge with them, machines and processes are more complex, and the smaller pool of new workers doesn’t have the required skills. This means organizations see reduced production and revenue. According to Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs in the US could reach 2.1 million by 2030 due to the skills gap.

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Why is there a manufacturing skills gap?

There are several macroeconomic challenges that result in today’s manufacturing skills gap, the majority of which are caused by changing technologies, perceptions, and demographics.

Aging and retiring workforce

Your tenured subject matter experts have spent decades building their knowledge and guiding less experienced members of the workforce. They’ve grown familiar with the day-to-day workflows of your organization, and they’ve experienced firsthand the increasing complexity of products and processes along the way. Manufacturers rely heavily on those experts to not only do their jobs, but to also contribute to the onboarding, training, and upskilling of the broader workforce—a gap that can’t easily be filled once they retire. The few SMEs you have must put their own tasks on hold to help their peers or new hires on the job, and this may be their only available method for knowledge sharing. Much of this knowledge resides only in the heads of the experts, making it impossible to scale it out across the organization effectively. With no clear method to capture that knowledge, their years' worth of accumulated experience leaves the business with them.

New hires lacking expertise

With a heavy reliance on experienced members of the workforce to lend support on the job, new hires have limited means to build expertise after SMEs leave the organization. Paper-based training materials and work instructions are notoriously difficult to keep up to date and can be hundreds of pages long, making it difficult for new frontline workers to find the information they need to complete a task efficiently. And once they find the right page, the worker is likely to struggle with the lack of visual context, the 2D diagrams describing 3D equipment, and the complex information.

Products and processes becoming more complex

As products and processes become more complex and the number of product variations and configurations increases year after year, frontline workers face the growing pressure to keep up and hit production KPIs. But this complexity makes it even more difficult to navigate complicated paper-based instructions without over-the-shoulder support from an expert. In-person training programs can offer information and guidance, but frontline workers must rely on recall to use that information on the job later.

Misaligned education and training programs

Education and training programs can be helpful ways to onboard employees and share information about new changes. But classroom experiences can lack hands-on learning, and don’t always translate well to the plant floor, where a frontline worker must rely on paper-based work instructions or interrupt an SME to fill any gaps in their memory. New hires and experienced workers alike need a way to access the information they need while on the job.

Negative perceptions of frontline work

Outdated and negative perceptions of frontline work make it difficult for manufacturers to attract and retain talent as their experts retire from the workforce. Further adding to this negative perception is the reliance on paper-based training materials and work instructions in manufacturing, which can put off digital natives—the incoming generation of workers who grew up around technology—from considering roles in the industry.

Benefits of closing the skills gap

By closing the skills gap, manufacturers can realize multiple benefits. Those who have taken steps to address the skills gap find it has positively impacted their business.

By closing the skills gap, manufacturers can realize multiple benefits. Those who have taken steps to address the skills gap find it has positively impacted their business.

Increase output and revenue

Closing the skills gap empowers the workforce to unlock efficiencies and productivity, ultimately increasing production and revenue for your business.

Improve SME productivity

With a more skilled workforce, SMEs can make better use of their time on the job completing their own crucial tasks—rather than stepping away to support and assist less experienced frontline workers.

Retain talent

Building frontline workers’ skills with exciting, modern technology lessens the chance that they will turn to your competitors for a better work experience.

Gain a skilled workforce

Solving the knowledge gap between your new workers and retiring experts ensures your manufacturing organization can meet today’s demands and tomorrow’s challenges.

Boost perception of manufacturing

Closing the skills gap means reclaiming the reputation of manufacturing and changing misguided narratives. Skilled employees are happier, safer, and more engaged on the job.

How can manufacturers fix the skills gap?

Capture institutional knowledge 

Capturing institutional knowledge ensures new hires and current workers alike can continue to benefit from the expertise of retiring workers long after they leave the organization. It’s even better if that knowledge can be updated at any time and scaled across the enterprise.

Educate new hires and upskill current workers

Given the ever-increasing complexity of products and processes, educating the younger workforce and upskilling current workers is an ongoing process that continues beyond the onboarding and training stages and throughout the entire employee lifecycle.

Provide workers with the right technology

Effectively educating and upskilling the workforce requires scaling institutional knowledge with tools that frontline workers can use while on the job. Ideally, this would mimic the experience of working side by side with an expert.

How can augmented reality help?

AR helps manufacturers close the skills gap by improving training, upskilling, and by giving frontline workers the information they need, whenever and wherever they need it.

Improve training outcomes

AR improves training outcomes by accelerating comprehension through detailed visual instructions that employees can consume on their tablet, mobile device, or wearable headset. This means frontline workers can access clear information in the context of their physical environment while on the job to complete tasks accurately and efficiently—no matter their experience level.

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Remove Complexity

One of the biggest roles AR plays in closing the skills gap is simplifying tasks with clear, in-context instructions. No matter how complex the product or process, AR empowers frontline workers with all the information and guidance they need in the context of their physical environment.

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Boost safety and engagement

AR provides the real-time guidance, visual cues, and contextual awareness frontline workers need to complete tasks correctly and safely. The interactive experience of AR is also more engaging than paper-based training materials and work instructions, which improves safety and the overall work experience for employees of all ages and experience levels.

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Attract and retain talent

In a competitive market for top talent, it’s critical to differentiate your business. Not only does AR promise a work experience that’s attractive to digital natives, but it also shows potential new hires that a company is invested in its workforce. Employees value a company that values them—and offering technology that accelerates learning and productivity sets you apart.

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AR work instructions for closing the skills gap

AR work instructions help employees improve efficiency, boost on-the-job safety, and get more engaged with their work.

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AR Instructions

Frontline workers can access AR work instructions on their tablet, mobile device, or wearable headset to get detailed digital information in the context of the physical equipment. Employees are empowered to work more efficiently and safely without interrupting SMEs for support.

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AR Inspection

Frontline workers leverage AR during inspections as a last line of defense to catch any defects before the product reaches the customer. With clear, real-time visual guidance through AR and AI, inspections are completed efficiently and accurately.

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Digital Mentor

AR acts as a digital mentor for frontline workers of all experience levels. With clear, in-context digital instructions, workers have an expert working beside them at all times. AR work instructions can also be updated anytime, giving users immediate access to new information as it’s available.

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Industry 4.0

Leading manufacturers are realizing digital transformation through Industry 4.0, leveraging an effective combination of technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and AR.

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