There is a burgeoning movement to motivate students in America to consider careers in the unlikeliest of places – the factory floor.
Even in the face of job
cuts amid the current economic turbulence, U.S.
manufacturers have great concern about the growing shortage of young skilled
labor needed to make products used in industries ranging from aerospace and
medical devices to alternative energy and infrastructure improvements, according
to industry experts.
Those heralding the cause
include leading trade associations, regional economic development groups, TV
personalities such as Jay Leno and John Ratzenberger, and even a teenage race
“Although there have been significant
job losses in certain industries and regions, many areas of the country are
clamoring for skilled employees,” said Mark Tomlinson, executive director and
general manager for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. “In Texas, the oil and gas
industry has created a thriving manufacturing community. Parts of the Southeast
have seen tremendous growth in several segments.”
A recent poll
conducted by sponsors of the Fabtech International & AWS Welding Show
revealed executives cited the lack of employee skills as a leading obstacle to
supports what we’ve heard for a couple of years from leaders in the metal
forming, fabricating and welding industries. They report their biggest challenge
today is finding skilled workers, especially young people, who have the
knowledge to handle the increasingly sophisticated tasks required in
manufacturing,” said Jerry Shankel, president and CEO of the Fabricators &
Manufacturers Association International. “For example, we are
using laser light to cut metal now, and it requires a person proficient in math
and science skills.”
outreach to students and educators is taking two parallel tracks in response to
the challenge. One dispels the negative image many have of factories as dark,
dingy and dangerous, and such work as boring. The second highlights the
chance to use fun, high-tech, computer skills and the opportunity to secure a
career that pays well and offers advancement.
the problem is the media and Hollywood, who often portray manufacturing in a
poor light, denigrating anyone who works with their hands,” said actor John
Ratzenberger, star of the TV comedy “Cheers,” host of the factory-focused
Travel Channel show “John Ratzenberger’s
Made in America” and founder of the Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs
Foundation. which encourages young people to consider careers in
manufacturing community must do a better job informing children that working in
a factory is rewarding both personally and financially,” said Ratzenbeger. “It
all starts with getting young people to take pride in tinkering and inspiring
them to work with both their hands and their minds.”
agree with Ratzenberger.
“The image of manufacturing is still very much
misunderstood; people, particularly young people, believe that we have the
manufacturing plants of the 1950s and ’60s,” said G. Edward Hughes, Ph.D., president and
CEO of Gateway Community and Technical College in Edgewood, Ky.,
in a recent Cincinnati newspaper interview.
from the U.S. Department of Labor also noted, “Popular perceptions of
manufacturing jobs as dark, dangerous and dirty are largely outdated as advanced
robotics and other ‘intelligent’ systems become pervasive throughout the
Combating this image and shining a
spotlight on the career opportunities in manufacturing now represent missions of
more and more organizations, whether these are grassroots or national efforts.
Here are just a few of the hundreds of initiatives taking place across
Cleveland-based Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network sponsors videos shown
in seven Ohio
high schools that illustrate why manufacturing is a good career choice. A recent
program on welding even featured Jay Leno, who extolled the virtues of the
welders who restore his prized autos.
business groups in Manitowoc
County, Wis., sponsor
“Project Mini-Chopper” that showcases career opportunities by giving students
real-life experiences with manufacturing. Student groups actually build
motorcycles as school projects.
Ratzenberger’s foundation offers more
real-life manufacturing experiences by issuing grants to educational and
not-for-profit institutions that conduct summer manufacturing camps for kids
with courses that focus on designing and building things.
“The camps give the
kids a tangible experience to make something they can be proud of and take
home,” he said. “I can think of no enterprise more worthy than one
devoted to inspiring the next generation of engineers, builders and
OSU-Okmulgee MidAmerica Industrial
Park in Pryor, Okla.,
conducts a two-day program called “All About Manufacturing” that targets
educators and teaches them about manufacturing as a career choice – knowledge
they can pass on to their students.
now in its second year of featuring Florida teenage race car driver and welder
Brennan Palmiter in efforts to reach young people. Initiatives include the “GO
Brennan” scholarship program in which students apply by posting videos on
YouTube, and a “Be True to Your School” program tied to FMA magazine Practical
Welding today that has Palmiter visiting schools accompanied by his race car, to
talk about welding, racing and manufacturing.
“It’s important that people my age
realize there are opportunities in the manufacturing field for them to pursue,”
parents and teachers don’t have personal experience in today’s manufacturing,
they can’t guide their children with accurate opinions and information about
manufacturing careers,” said Pat Lee, FMA public relations director and a member
of the Rockford, Ill., Chamber of Commerce Manufacturers
Council. “That’s why our council compiled a web resource on manufacturing
careers and provided it to the local high school district. The district then
created a web page on its site that is visited regularly by both students and
Shankel said he sees this movement is starting to change the nation’s mindset
“So many organizations
now are committed to make this happen and we’re beginning to see results.
Applications for our scholarships have reached record levels. Educators are
paying attention. And, young people are flocking to manufacturing camps.
“Positioning industrial jobs as
desirable and rewarding will fulfill specific needs of manufacturers and,
without question, strengthen our economy,” he said.
Efforts promote manufacturing as career
January 29, 2009