Perception is reality goes the saying. And for years that has been the pitfall of getting people interested in careers in manufacturing. A recent survey by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) found that parents continue to have misconceptions about the manufacturing landscape, including the idea that it is not an exciting, challenging or engaging profession, nor is it seen as well-paying.
The truth is that manufacturing offers career opportunities for every education level from skilled trades that require a high school diploma to engineers, designers and programmers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and researchers and scientist with PhDs says the report. And, factory floors are far from the dirty, dark environment that so many people seem to think. Not only are they bright, clean and organized, but many may even look more like clean rooms or laboratories.
I confess. Twenty-some years ago I had absolutely no interest in manufacturing and only accepted a job in this field due to some challenging circumstances. I had the same misconceptions that the SME study revealed. But, after having the opportunity to walk numerous plant floors and see the ingenuity involved in “making things”, I became an enthusiastic convert. I get to learn something new every day and, not only that, I actually have fun.
Engage at an early age
So, how do you get kids pumped up about pursuing a career in manufacturing? First, it would be helpful if we could get adults to simply have a better appreciation of the fact that just about every item they use each day would not exist without manufacturing. It’s not just about automobiles and airplanes. From our “must-have” electronics to packaged foods, clothing and makeup… all of these have to be “made”. So, we’ve got to start with the adults and get them to use positive messaging about this field when their kids are young. This requires government, academia and industry efforts to get parents on-board.
I’m happy to see the recent Michigan workforce campaigns (my home state) recently launched to create awareness and engage key audiences with manufacturing starting at the kindergarten level. These campaigns smartly involve some celebrity-types including Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe, one of my favorites. I’m hoping that programs such as these will be heavily promoted through the school systems to educate both parents and their children to the diverse opportunities that exist in this field.
Provide hands-on opportunities
Nothing engages as much as real-world experience
Two of our clients have seen the positive results that occur by providing hands-on training experiences starting at the high school level. Automatic Feed Company (Napoleon, Ohio) partnered with the Napoleon school system and Northwest State Community College (NSCC) three years ago to establish the Northwest Ohio Learning Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NOLC). Located on Automatic Feed’s headquarters, the NOLC allows high school students to receive instruction from NSCC faculty on-site and, in turn, be able to walk across the hallway to the manufacturing floor to see and put what they learn into practice. Students earn both high school and college credit, which can be applied toward a degree.
Given a good taste of what a career in manufacturing might look and feel like, the majority of the students in this program have chosen to pursue a field in engineering as they head off to college. They’ve seen that today’s engineer is a far cry from the old stereotype of a man in a white short-sleeve shirt with a pocket protector. Today’s computer engineering tools are designed in a way that seem almost second-nature to today’s computer gaming generation.
Coldwater Machine Company (CMC) runs a four-year Registered Apprenticeship Training Program requiring 8,000 hours of on-the-job training in a full-time role with the company as well as fulfillment of a technical degree at Rhodes State College, where tuition is paid-in-full by CMC. Apprentices also receive full benefit packages while working with their mentors to learn skilled trades through different manufacturing functions. Coldwater uses this program to build and grow talent into its organization, many who go on to become leaders of the business. This program currently accounts for 10% of their workforce over a 5-year period.
The importance of creating a sustainable model for engaging, training and employing new workers in manufacturing is critical to our country. Why? For every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.37 is added to the economy – the highest multiplier of any economic sector, says the National Association of Manufacturers.
So, if you’re a parent who thinks your child should be a surgeon because they are good with their hands, I ask you to consider other technical and skilled trades alternatives. If you have a child good at problem-solving, I cannot think of a better field. Counselors, I ask that you arrange tours of manufacturing facilities to let kids see the advanced tools and technologies at play. If we change the perception of manufacturing to the realities of how it really looks, how creative it really is, and the careers that can be made, hopefully we can excite our future generations to give manufacturing a chance.