The past 18 months have challenged the manufacturing sector like never before.While many communities around the world were preparing toreopen,I was reminded recently that one of the biggest challenges our sector will ever face is still ahead of us.

According to a study published in April by the National Association of Manufacturers, the growing manufacturing skills gap in the United States could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030. In the same study, which was conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, researchers estimated that the impact of these missing jobs could total $1 trillion in 2030 alone.And in the present, manufacturers who were surveyed reported that finding the “right talent” is 36 percent harder than it was just three years ago—even witha considerably larger pool of available workers due to pandemic-related job losses.

The manufacturing skills gap is not a new problem. But the pandemic has shown that we, as leaders in the sector, must approach it with a stronger sense of urgency.

Just as our teams have adopted new ways of working over the past 18 months to keep each other safe and keep our essential facilities operating during a period of unprecedented demand volatility, we must now adopt new ways of thinking to better market our industry and our companies.

To attract the right talent, we must challenge the dated perceptions that many of us hear about our sector—including that manufacturing is old-fashioned or not innovative, that jobs are all going offshore or disappearing entirely, and that our career paths lack flexibility or aren’t open to everyone.That last notion will be especially important going forward as the U.S. population continues to grow more diverse.At ADM, we have established strategic partnerships with external agencies that are devoted to recruiting talented candidates from underrepresented groups. But we need to make those candidates interested in ADM in the first place. Telling our story—and making sure that we’re telling it to everyone—starts with being present and active in STEM programs from the elementary school level on up. For me, manufacturing was always an attractive career choice due to the fast pace and energy, as well as the opportunity to solve complex problems while workingas part of a team and making a real impact on people’s lives. In the process, I’ve made lifelong friends and been exposed to innovative technologies that will change the way people live for generations to come. Not everyone has that perspective—or has heard it from someone who looks like them or is from the same place—but together we can change that, one classroom, one university and one veteran’s job fair at a time.

"The manufacturing skills gap is not a new problem. But the pandemic has shown that we, as leaders in the sector, must approach it with a stronger sense of urgency"

To develop the right talent, we must provide more and better opportunities to our existing workforce early in their careers and support vocational training programs targeted to our future workforce. Both as an industry and as individual companies, we can do a much better job of articulating the value and the opportunities that a manufacturing career offers—but there is no substitute for hands-on experience. At ADM, we launched a rotational leadership development program that will provide young engineers with a series of meaningful assignmentsacross different areas of our business.Similarly, vocational training programs at high schools and community colleagues can bring attention to potential careers in manufacturing and skilled trades and provide valuable experience to potential job candidates—but only if we help support these programs and speak to the important role, they will play in addressing the challenges facing our sector and, in fact, the world.

To retain the right talent, we must build trust by providing continuous learning opportunities, making a positive difference in the world around us, and taking on a leadership role in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. To me, these guiding principles will be most effective if we adopt them bothwithin our respective companies and together as a sector.As the use of digital and automated tools becomes more common in the years ahead, providing more learning opportunities will become increasingly critical to our value proposition. We must also continue to take action to improvethe well-being of the communities where we operate. Each successive generation that enters the workforce prioritizes working for a company that shares their values more than their predecessors. That’s why, at ADM, we assess the needs of communities individually and prioritize programs by directing funding to initiatives and organizations that drive meaningful social, economic and environmental progress.

Adapting to changing conditions and requirements is nothing new for our sector. But we must address this growing challenge together—now.