Despite the need from manufacturers for highly skilled workers in the years ahead, U.S. teenagers in large numbers are choosing white-collar “desk” jobs over blue-collar careers.

The Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs Foundation polled 500 teens, ages 13 to 17, who participated in a September 2009 online survey.

According to poll results, 52 percent of teens have little or no interest in a manufacturing career and another 21 percent are ambivalent. When asked why, 61 percent said they seek a professional career, far surpassing other issues such as pay (17 percent), career growth (15 percent) and physical work (14 percent).

“Unfortunately, manufacturing often is not positioned as a viable career by groups such as educators and counselors, and at times factory work even is maligned in pop culture and the media,” said Gerald Shankel, president of Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, a foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International. “Based on this environment, these findings are not surprising.

“It’s ironic that even with so many professionals unemployed today, teens still consider the traditional college degree as the launch pad to the preferred career path,” Shankel added. “Our industry must generate interest among young people to consider manufacturing and convey that it’s both honorable and profitable to work with your hands. The skilled jobs to fill will not only require workers to operate the most advanced, sophisticated equipment, such as robotics and lasers, it will require the kind of high tech, computer skills young people love to apply.”

The poll also showed that 61 percent of teens had never visited or toured a factory or manufacturing facility.

Only 28 percent of the teens had taken an industrial arts or shop class, yet more than double that number - 58 percent - have completed a home economics course.

Almost three in 10 teens - 27 percent - spend no time during the week working with their hands on projects such as woodworking or models, 30 percent spend less than one hour and 26 percent for one to two hours.

“It’s a tragedy that we no longer teach our young people to work with their hands or even encourage them to try it on their own,” said actor and producer John Ratzenberger, an NBT founder who leads the organization’s communications outreach.

Ratzenberger is best known for playing “Cliff Claven” on the 1980s situation comedy “Cheers.”

“When so few experience a factory tour or can take pride in finishing a shop project, it’s no wonder that a manufacturing career receives low marks,” he said. “In addition, for the most part, our schools and administrators focus on only one honorable trajectory for our kids, and that’s the traditional university degree. Our education system theoretically is supposed to prepare our children for the future, yet we fail to offer them exposure to skills and fields that offer both them and us a brighter future.”

A separate national poll of 1,000 adults sponsored by the NBT reveals parents actually would support having a young factory worker in their family. More than half would recommend their child pursue a career in manufacturing or another kind of industrial trade.

“Knowing so many parents will back their children in this career path is truly welcome news,” Ratzenberger said.

Shankel also noted that more than 70 percent of Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong national economy and national security.

“Such sentiment really motivates us to work hard to inspire the next generation of manufacturers, welders, builders, electricians and other trades people,” he said.