Manufacturing: If it can boost the stock market, why aren't people more interested in working in it?

As a speaker at the 2012 IndustryWeek Best Plants conference last week in Indianapolis, I had the chance to sit in on some of the sessions and keynotes. I found one keynote speaker, Mary Adringa, CEO and President of Vermeer, an international, family-owned agricultural, construction, environmental and industrial equipment manufacturing company, particularly interesting. Mary Adringa is also the Chair of the Board of NAM (National Association of Manufacturers), the first woman to hold that post. First, I found it inspiring that IndustryWeek had chosen a female manufacturing executive of her stature as a keynote. The dearth of women as both attendees and presenters at this conference was notable. There don’t seem to be more women in attendance at a manufacturing conference than when I worked in manufacturing a while back. It made me wonder if the reported fall-off in women entering the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) careers is being felt in manufacturing, where high-paying jobs are going unfilled.  This leads me to Mary Adringa’s stating that 600,000 jobs in U.S. manufacturing remain unfilled. This is 5% of manufacturing jobs. And, only 25% of those who do apply have the requisite skills for these jobs. Ms. Adringa said that this 5%  rate of unfilled jobs is true at Vermeer and that qualified people to fill them are hard to find. This seems tragic, given current U.S. unemployement rates. While this indicates a mismatch of trained workers and the job requirements, one needs to ask: Why? The U.S. still has 21% of global manufacturing  (with China at 15-16%). And increased efficiencies (in both business practices and technology) are helping U.S. manufacturers compete with lower cost countries and nearshore some of their manufacturing.  Why are young people eschewing jobs in manufacturing? The public’s general impression of manufacturing is that it’s dirty and uninteresting. Perhaps this negative view has become a cultural bias in the U.S. And few young people, let alone their parents and teachers, have ever even been in a manufacturing facility. And perhaps they don’t understand the thrill of actually making a real, tangible product — maybe not with their very own hands but in the company they work for. Vermeer is trying to remedy this situation by offering teacher internships in the summer to show teachers what manufacturing really is and what skills are needed. Teachers leave the program with both enthusiasm for and an understanding of the skills their students need to get this high-paying, highly-skilled jobs.

As Pat Panchak, Editor-in-Chief of IndustryWeek and Emcee Extraordinaire of the Best Plants conference, noted during the conference: manufacturing jobs are high tech. Unfortunately, the public is still misinformed. It’s much more glamorous and lucrative to be a sports hero, a movie star or an investment banker, but highly unlikely for most people as a realistic career path. Too bad. Maybe the real scoop will get out and young people will understand how financially rewarding — both personally and to society– manufacturing can be and how manufacturing is the growth engine that fuels our economy and lifestyle.

Sherry R. Gordon

Author of:
Book: Supplier Evaluation and Performance Excellence: A Guide to Meaningful Metrics and Successful Results
CloudDVD: Supplier Evaluation and Performance Management

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