Manufacturing’s future depends on a workforce

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Manufacturers contribute $2.25 trillion to the U.S. economy, 12% of gross domestic product and employ 12.5 million workers. And, according to statistics from the National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturers in the U.S. perform more than three-quarters of all private-sector research and development (R&D) in the nation, driving more innovation than any other sector – $229.9 billion in 2014. Manufacturing employs nearly 80% of the nation’s engineers and generates roughly 85% of all U.S. patents.

However, finding workers continues to be challenging, especially as the skillsets required for advanced manufacturing are changing. Companies need talent in all areas – machinists, software engineers, R&D, programmers, process engineers, assemblers, fabricators, welders, and quality inspectors – typically hoping to check several of these boxes with each hire. Automation on the shop floor has replaced the need for traditional manual labor, requiring skillsets that include mechanical and technical aptitude for running machinery cells to preventative maintenance and troubleshooting.

Today’s advanced manufacturing jobs rely on a foundation of STEM – science, technology, engineering, mathematics – yet it takes more than this acronym to spark students’ interest. Exposure to STEM needs to start early, and as students advance through schooling, those with an interest in STEM-based learning will be much more aware of career opportunities and what education they will need. Some may want to pursue a trade school certification, others a bachelor’s degree. Either path can lead to a manufacturing career, so long as the foundational knowledge is there.

Here are some steps that are helping. Since 2012, Manufacturing Days have been held on the first Friday in October across the U.S. where companies open their doors to the community to highlight advanced manufacturing. At GIE Media, we began Miles For Manufacturing at IMTS 2014, a 5k run where we donate all proceeds to STEM education programs. We followed that up with #WhyMFG, highlighting the stories of young people who chose manufacturing as a career and the companies that are helping spur interest in the industry.

While different paths are used to fill the demand for workers – internships, apprenticeships, certification programs – depending on where your facility is, you may want to start locally and invest in homegrown talent, something Steve Stokey, president of Allied Machine & Engineering has been doing. Steve helped establish a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program in Tuscarawas County, in Northeast Ohio, on the edge of Appalachia where the company is headquartered. By bringing his passion and belief in the region’s local talent, PLTW now involves all grade levels (K-12) in the region, and each summer, Allied Machine & Engineering hires more than 30 student interns – offering jobs to those with the right skills. Take some time to read more about what Steve is doing – https://goo.gl/vsgQWo – and then send me an email to let me know what you or your company is doing.

Elizabeth Engler Modic, Editor
emodic@gie.net

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