collaborative manufacturing trends: using apprenticeships to address the labor shortage

in rethinking robotics, trending now by Sue Sokoloski

In our recent post, Three Unexpected Trends Impacting the Labor Shortage, we talked about how finding and retaining labor remains a top challenge for manufacturers. Although robotic automation technology can solve some of their issues, such as using a smart, collaborative robot (cobot) like Sawyer to perform mundane tasks, manufacturers still need trained and highly skilled people.

How could a collaborative robot such as Sawyer be utilized in the manufacturing industry?

To solve this challenge, manufacturers are using various tactics, like forming partnerships with their respective states – e.g. Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEPs), educators, and their legislators. (Source: NJ Business Magazine)

They’re also providing on-the-job training. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, technology is changing faster than four-year college curriculums can keep up. This “misalignment” means it can take a new engineer five years to get up to speed – but companies need that ramp-up time to be two years. To address this problem, more companies are creating “schools” within their workplaces in order to teach workers what colleges can’t (or won’t).

Companies can use collaborative robots to work alongside people, while also training them to oversee and manage the robotic automation solutions.

Manufacturers – and companies across all industries – are also making use of the Federal Government’s Apprenticeship Program. While the program has been in existence for over 20 years, President Trump expanded it in June 2017, in order “to provide more affordable pathways to secure, high paying jobs by promoting apprenticeships and effective workforce development programs.” (Source:

According to the Department of Labor, apprenticeships have grown 42% since 2013. For FY 2017, more than 190,000 individuals entered the program, with 533,000 people working on their apprenticeships.

More important, the manufacturing sector has 17,559 individuals working toward their apprenticeships. (Source: DOL) High demand apprenticeships include CNC machinist, mold maker, and plastics fabricator, to name just a few. (Source: DOL Apprenticeships). Manufacturers interested in starting an apprenticeship program can find a Quick-Start Tool Kit and other resources at the DOL’s Apprenticeship Program website.

While apprenticeships are a great way to bring in potential talent, you might already have some strong candidates working on lower skill tasks that are capable of so much more. If that’s the case, then consider what a cobot like Sawyer can do for them and their careers, as well as for your production line.

Collaborative robots like Sawyer do boring, repetitive tasks allowing people to oversee the cobots and do more value-added work.

For more news, videos and views about collaborative robots, automation and the workforce of the future, drop by Cobot Central. Also, check out the rest of the Rethink Robotics blog and be sure to subscribe above to receive alerts sent directly to your inbox.


About the Author

Sue Sokoloski

Sue has spent the last two decades marketing for emerging technologies, building new categories, and applying science to the art of marketing. It took one look at Baxter to sign on to Rethink Robotics – a human-safe robot out to change the world. When not promoting “all things Sawyer and Baxter”, she is focused on “all things food”: where to eat it, how to prepare it, how to write another cookbook about it.

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