America built it’s vast economy by inventing, building and innovating in manufacturing. Despite this foundation, 90% of America's manufacturers say they are struggling to find qualified workers.
The reasons are varied and there is enough blame to go around. Schools focused on academics over vocational experiences. The general shift to an information and service economy drove more people to so-called white collar jobs. In 1970, more than a quarter of U.S. employees worked in manufacturing. By 2010, only one in 10 did, as many of these job shipped overseas.
But as we start to see a resurgence in manufacturing, we can all agree that there is simply a lack of exposure to the industry. Few people, especially the younger generations, know what manufacturing is all about. What jobs and careers are available. And how rewarding making things for others can be.
How do we create new perceptions of manufacturing and expose a generation of young people to the career opportunities that exist?
INSPIRE A CULTURE OF MAKING
Several manufacturing veterans tell us that their interest within manufacturing started as children. They were the kids who loved to build and tinker long before they knew that there was an industry that embraced their passions. What if manufacturing companies were to sponsor events to spark that inner maker? What if they were to put 'real tools' in the hands of young people and provide them with mentors to help solve the problems that they care about?
There is no better feeling than seeing the physical outcome of one's hard work. Unfortunately ‘technical education’ has diminished over the past 30 years, eliminating a key way students discovered their passion for hands-on careers. We should applaud and encourage the tinkerer in all of us. We need to provide opportunities for young people to get messy while they break, fix, and create.
CAPTURE MANUFACTURING ENVIRONMENTS IN COMPELLING WAYS
Manufacturing itself doesn’t need a facelift, but how we communicate manufacturing careers does. Authentically portraying what that job and environment is about is the first step. Manufacturing environments are certainly more varied and interesting than 90% of the bland, cubicle'd offices most people work in. In manufacturing, the high tech co-exists with the low tech. Robotic machinery and measuring cups. Clean rooms absent of dust and milling machines with oil and metal cuttings flying. The work can be very loud and physical or quiet and highly detailed. Seeing these different environments and the actual jobs in action helps build awareness and excitement for potential employees to make informed decisions about where they’ll do well.
Companies like FusionOEM in Chicago have taken this to the next level. They’ve hired local filmmakers who visit nearly every month to film short videos about different aspects of their business. According to Fusion’s CEO Craig Zoberis, this level of transparency helps them attract the best candidates for their jobs. For these reasons and more, it’s no wonder FusionOEM was recently honored as one of Inc 5000’s most innovative manufacturing companies and top places to work for.
BE A 'COMMUNITY COMPANY'
Over the years as manufacturing moved overseas and awareness dropped, manufacturers that remained in the States became more detached from their communities. We need to reverse that unfortunate impact! Today’s generation of millennials want to join companies that are connected and active in the community. Manufacturers, with their exciting and dynamic environments, are well-positioned to engage with the community inside and outside of their organization.
Being out in the community, especially where young people are can be a non-traditional way of exposing them to manufacturing careers while still supporting their personal endeavors. Sponsoring local baseball teams and recreational events is a traditional way companies participated. But to drive higher awareness and engagement, manufacturers should start aligning with exciting new areas like hacker fairs, start up competitions, internet of things, and 3D printing events. While seeds are planted for the long term, this kind of engagement also boosts your own employees’ excitement about where they work and what new ideas they need to be familiar with. Opening your doors and regularly hosting community tours is an incredible way to expose young people to your organization and manufacturing careers in general.
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Elena and Abby bring you innovative stories from the workplace.