As exciting as they are, these technological advances have profound effects on the manufacturing workforce. 80% of manufacturers say they have a moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled or highly skilled positions. In the next decade it’s expected that as many as 2 million manufacturing jobs will be unfulfilled due to this “skills gap.”

For example, 3D printing is becoming cheaper, and it is taking less time and material to produce a complex design. These products will not require an assembly line, instead they will require a small number of product designers, programmers, and manufacturing engineers to produce shapes that may (or, may not) otherwise be producible in a factory system. It’s easy to see how manufacturing is shifting its need for “blue collar” workforces to highly trained “white collar” professions as the technology advances and grows.

Considered on its own value and potential, the U.S manufacturing sector would be the ninth biggest economy in the world. But, looking at it another way, a study shows that the average U.S manufacturer is losing roughly 11% of its annual earnings due to the lack of talent. Now imagine this effect on the broader U.S economy -- it makes a significant difference.

Manufacturers have been attempting to blunt the effect of what will happen if the skills gap isn’t closed, and it’s beginning to be noticed. A variety of ways to close the skills gap have been proposed: encouraging STEM studies in schools, changing the stigma surrounding manufacturing jobs, training internal workers to prepare them for more complex jobs, etc.

How that gap will be closed is still unknown. The most likely solution would be a combination of efforts and a shift of public opinion will prove successful.

What is known is how technology is converting manufacturing into something completely different than what it was 20, even 10, years ago. New manufacturing workers are not only highly skilled, but highly paid, earning about 24% more annually than the average worker in the United States. Technology is helping to make these jobs more lucrative than before, and individual manufacturers must assess how to close the skills gap. It’s important on a nationwide, industry-wide scale not only to track the progress of technology but to also find ways to keep up with the job demand.

Nora Leary is the co-founder and head of marketing and business development for Launchway Media, a digital marketing agency that specializes in building data-driven campaigns. Contact her at nora@launchwaymedia.com, or visit www.LaunchwayMedia.com