It’s time to re-energize manufacturing

In the final blog post of this series, let’s take a look at ways to ensure an increase in the number of skilled workers in the manufacturing sector. 

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The U.S. manufacturing industry is experiencing a time of incredible growth and is considered the world’s 8th largest economy. The country is benefiting from this success, but so are the employees! Check out the most recent data from The Manufacturing Institute:

  • Manufacturing supports 17.6 million jobs in the U.S.
  • The average U.S. manufacturing worker earns $77,506 annually, while the average for workers in other industries is significantly lower at $62,546
  • A large majority, 90%, of manufacturing workers have medical benefits

With such obvious perks for the overall economy and individuals, why are we looking at a lack of skilled workers in manufacturing, especially among women? According to a highly cited report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, in the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap.

With manufacturing proven to be a successful industry, it has hit the “maturity” stage of the life cycle. It is profitable, people know about it (although perceptions are often negative and incorrect), and it has more work to be done than people to do it. For those of us in the manufacturing industry, we need to take this time to re-energize the sector so we continually go back to the growth stage, instead of moving into a decline. It’s obvious that increasing the number of skilled workers in the talent pipeline is one of the main ways we will continue this re-energized growth in manufacturing. But how do we make that happen?

STEM Education + Female Role Models

I’ve covered this in detail in another blog post, but it bears mentioning here as well. In the 2015 public perception report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, Americans are reluctant to choose careers in manufacturing, and thus, they aren’t encouraging the next generation to pursue these jobs either. Millennials (ages 19-33) showed the lowest likelihood for ranking manufacturing as their first career choice. However, most of these respondents had no personal experience or familiarity with manufacturing. For those who did, they ranked manufacturing as their third most popular career choice out of 7 industries, as opposed to the overall 5th ranking.

This is an important data point showing up over and over—when students have some knowledge with manufacturing, their interest in pursuing it as a career rises exponentially. The STEM programs, mentors, role models, Manufacturing Day events, and career fairs all play a role in showcasing the benefits of manufacturing and providing hands-on, real insight that could change the minds and career paths of a significant number of young women. The statistics and my own personal observations are in total agreement: when young women are given hands-on STEM education, as well as the chance to observe female role models and be mentored, their interest in STEM careers as well as their follow-through is significant. The statistics are great, but seeing it first hand is powerful. Women currently in manufacturing have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to help bring in the next generation of women into this industry.

Technology

This goes back to perception. So many students (and adults) still see manufacturing as dark, dirty warehouses where workers suffer through hours of rote motions with monstrously big, greasy equipment. That couldn’t be further from the current realities and those of us in manufacturing need to showcase this in every way possible. Manufacturing in 2017 means technologically advanced machinery, modern buildings designed to help teams of employees collaborate and communicate more easily, and it includes use of robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things, just to name a few.

Millennials have been raised with technology as part of every aspect of their lives and understanding that it plays an important role in manufacturing will help them see this as a more viable career option. From hardware to software and everything in between, the technology advancements in manufacturing are constant and require workers who can keep adapting.

New Materials and Environmental Responsibility

Manufacturing requires constant research and experimenting to determine if new materials can better solve a problem. It’s not working with the same old thing that’s been used for 30 years, but instead requires thinking differently to find new materials for new uses. In addition to strong salaries and benefits, workers want to be challenged and feel they are contributing to something bigger than one product or one company. Manufacturing allows for this, as the industry is always looking for ways to innovate and solve problems in new ways, while also saving money, time, and the planet.

Most potential employees don’t realize manufacturing companies like mine are often conflict-free certified, meaning that tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold, or their derivatives are not used in parts or materials we use or sell. This helps us support responsible sourcing practices across our supply chains. Companies can also work to be green certified where we commit to going above and beyond what is required to conserve resources, prevent pollution, reduce waste, and shrink our carbon footprint. Manufacturing is socially and environmentally involved, which should matter to all of us, but is a noted concern to younger workers.

Innovation

Manufacturing isn’t a career where you check your brain at the door. It needs great problem solvers who can work to meet current customers’ needs, while also developing new innovations for future concerns. The 2014 Deloitte/The Manufacturing Institute report mentioned above found that 78 percent of millennials said their decision to work at a company was influenced by how innovative they considered the company to be. Don’t miss that number or its importance. The majority of young workers are selecting their future employers based on perceived innovation. Manufacturing is all about innovation—it’s what we do all day, every day. This same group said they value opportunities for personal development and a chance to make a difference.

Talking with the engineers at my company, they have all said—many times—that what they most love about the manufacturing industry is the ability to take their schooling and innate interests and make a difference by creating something new that can help a customer. This is what millennials want and manufacturing has this. We need to be shouting this out a little louder!

Manufacturing is an economic powerhouse. The National Association of Manufacturers has a Top 20 Facts list that includes these staggering numbers:

  • Manufacturing contributed $2.17 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2015
  • For every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to the economy, making it the highest multiplier of any economic sector.

With STEM education and role models leading the way, a new generation can see that manufacturing is an economic leader providing technologically advanced, environmentally concerned, innovative career choices allowing people to make a difference in their community and world. Getting this message out to students, especially females, will provide the biggest impact in solving our industry’s need for skilled workers.


About the Author
Pamela Kan, president of Bishop-Wisecarver Group (BWG) since 2000, successfully runs this woman-owned family of WBENC-certified companies that works with manufacturers to engineer, manufacture, and build linear and rotary motion solutions, custom complex assemblies, and optimal embedded intelligence systems. Kan is active in numerous regional and national trade organizations, as well as STEM-focused student programs and mentoring groups for new women business owners. Kan’s involvement includes Special Advisor and board member for the Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) Education Foundation, launched and upcoming chair of the Women & Minorities Sub-Committee for the Power Transmission Distributor Association (PTDA), and Leadership Forum Committee Representative (FCR) for Astra RPO for WBENC. In addition, Kan currently serves as the executive committee chairman of the California Manufacturing and Technology Associations (CMTA), and was appointed by the governor of California to the California Workforce Development Board in 2012. Kan was selected as a recipient of the 2016 Enterprising Women of the Year Award, as well as the 2016 Mary Lehman MacLachlan Economic Empowerment Award from the Women President’s Organization (WPO).
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