The annual Grainger Show in Orlando ends today. Nearly 15,000 customers and product and service providers attended educational sessions, stopped at the 600-plus supplier booths, and participated in major industry discussions, including those on the skilled labor pandemic.
One of the show’s highlights was the company’s “Grainger Town,” where attendees experienced an interactive 20,000-square-foot exhibit, visiting areas within that highlighted the core Grainger solutions: sustainability; safety solutions, presented in a faux fire station; e-commerce for cost savings; and emergency preparedness — to name just a few.
Industry professionals also visited Grainger Town to join in on important industry discussions. Today, Bob Vavra, content manager of Plant Engineering, led a classroom-style morning session in the education center of Grainger Town to discuss the skilled labor gap in manufacturing. Vavra noted that many of his publication’s readers cite a lack of available skilled workers as their prime concern. He emphasized the importance of filling jobs by partnering with local schools, specifically community colleges, at a time when the manufacturing workforce is aging out of business.
Vavra cited how North Carolina State University’s Cooperative Education Program allows students to get work experience in their chosen field, emphasizing that such an incentive is effective because students earn money at apprenticeships based on their grades.
According to the university’s website, the Cooperative Education initiative is “one of the largest co-op programs in the nation, with more than 1,000 work rotations a year in a wide variety of fields, with employers across America.”
Vavra bluntly said manufacturers have done a “terrible job” in marketing the industry. And, for years, those entering into manufacturing employment have not been focused on building careers. Now, as manufacturers look to fill jobs, specifically in key areas such as welding, running CNC machinery, and automation, they are faced with a shortage of workers.
He urged all in attendance to give young Americans a taste of manufacturing by opening up their facility doors and extending invites to witness today’s plant operations and shop floors. “Even if we could get one-third of manufacturing jobs filled, think of how that would help the economy,” he said to a class of industry leaders who sat down and listened in.
Companies can take the first step in tackling their workforce challenges by approaching community colleges, joining cooperatives, or even calling their city mayor, Vavra explained.
Grainger has been proactive in its skilled labor advocacy efforts. Since 2006, the company has contributed over $2 million in tool kits, scholarships under the Tools for Tomorrow program, and awareness initiatives, as part of a long-term effort to advance technical and vocational education. Grainger scholarships are now available at 100 community colleges nationwide, and half of them are available to veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
In 2013, the company awarded $400,000 for 200 scholarships for students in industrial trade training.