Restoring the Luster of Manufacturing

Students are shying away from manufacturing because they think that good manufacturing jobs are fleeing the country. And the timing could not be worse as a worker shortage looms. Fortunately, one prominent group is setting the record straight:

The Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is setting out to convince students that manufacturing is a promising career. Through its recently launched publicity campaign called "Dream it, Do it," the group is hoping to spark the interest of high schoolers and undergrads and to encourage them to receive training at an earlier age in the skillsets required for a manufacturing career.

To accomplish its objectives, the advocacy group has to put a positive spin on some grim numbers. While a recovery is now afoot, the manufacturing sector has shed some 2.9 million positions since July 2000. Many of these jobs have gone to Mexico, China and other countries that offer lower labor costs. Not to worry, some industry observers say, the jobs that have fled involved manual labor. What's stayed in the country are positions requiring more intellect and reasoning--in short, higher-level jobs. "We know that the good manufacturing jobs are out there," says David Ritz, director of admissions for Louisville Tech, to Business First of Louisville. "But I don't think potential students realize that these jobs are out there." For example, in his school, students are much more drawn (by a nearly 3 to 1 ratio) to computer graphics than to mechanical engineering.

NAM's publicity campaign is especially timely because of the sector's aging workforce. In fact, by 2020, NAM expects 10 million job openings in the sector. According to Beth Solomon, associated director of media relations for NAM, this potential shortage of manufacturing workers represents a dire situation. A lack of qualified workers in the U.S. will spur companies to transplant even more jobs to other countries, she says, crippling the manufacturing sector and the U.S. economy as a whole. "A country of Wal-Marts just doesn't cut it," she tells Business First of Louisville. "You can't have an economy that doesn't make things. It just doesn't work. Plus, we have enormous technological and geographic advantages over anywhere else in the world."

And it's about time we put them to use. To address this shortage before it occurs, NAM is encouraging students to develop the essential skills at a younger age and getting manufacturers to provide internships to students. It's hoping to recruit the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow--people who are creative, analytical and able to fix problems.


Groups Aim to Counter Negative Ideas on Manufacturing Careers

Brett Corbin

Business First of Louisville, February 14, 2005

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