Building the Next Generation Manufacturers

April 4, 2016

By Dana Smith, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel assigned to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of the Secretary and is serving as the Senior Policy Advisor for National Manufacturing Policy

A few weeks ago, the Catalyst Connection, a Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, hosted an event at Heinz Field with manufacturers, industry leaders, students, teachers, and parents to announce the winners of its annual Explore the New Manufacturing Student Video Contest.

The Explore the New Manufacturing Program is an opportunity for young students to explore exciting career opportunities in the manufacturing industry. The program addresses the need for a skilled workforce within the industry while engaging local manufacturing companies with education.

Like many of the other student video contests conducted by the MEP Centers and the Dream It. Do It. networks in other states, the video contest paired student teams from 10 middle schools with local manufacturers. Each team was asked to tell the story “what makes manufacturing cool?” and the teams did not disappoint, as you can see from the winners.

Award winners were as follows: Best Manufacturing Message; Avonworth & ARDEX Engineered Cements, Most Creative; Burrell & TMG Electronics, People’s Choice; Avonworth & ARDEX Engineered Cements, and Best Marketing Plan; Mount Lebanon & Caterpillar

Beyond the student’s enthusiasm for the contest, it was great to see manufacturers working together with educators to address their future workforce challenges. According to the Manufacturing Institute, the manufacturing sector’s consistent expansion and aging demographic will lead to 3.4 million available manufacturing jobs by 2025, but only 1.4 million will be filled. That’s a lot of opportunities for those that seek out advanced manufacturing careers!

The challenge is obvious: there is a prevailing perception outside the manufacturing sector that manufacturing jobs are dirty, dangerous, low paying, and best left to someone else. Events like this competition and National Manufacturing Day are changing that perception across the country. The reality is manufacturing in the United States is evolving from the manufacturing jobs of yesterday into the manufacturing careers of tomorrow. Innovation is driving this change and manufacturers are continuously seeking out people with ever increasing technical skills to solve difficult and challenging manufacturing problems.

The proof that these perceptions are changing was easy to identify on the faces of the middle school students participating in the competition. They have now been to the factory floor, experienced firsthand what manufacturing is really like, and discovered it was nothing like what they imagined. They were beaming with excitement as they realized the potential of an advanced manufacturing career.  Manufacturing Day’s inaugural perception study conducted by Deloitte also confirms the power of firsthand experience in changing parents, educators, and students minds about manufacturing and the rewarding careers available.

The Manufacturing Institute did a good job quantifying the challenge facing manufacturers, but it is up to local communities to do something about it. Manufacturers have to communicate their future skills requirements to educators; educators have to build curriculums and recruit students; and students have to have an interest and positive perception about the opportunity. Communities like Pittsburgh that can coalesce around this simple concept will be ready for 2025.

The year 2025 seems distant and way too far in the future for today’s middle school students to contemplate. They may not fully realize it yet, but they are literally the new employees of the 2025 workforce. And there will be millions of jobs available to them in manufacturing. Now is the time to engage their perceptions so they can make informed decisions about their future. Take part in this year’s 5th Annual Manufacturing Day on October 7 and learn more on how to get involved here.


%d bloggers like this: