By Nicholas Wyman | Forbes | September 21, 2015 |
“Ain’t gonna work in the factory
greasy up my clothes
Ain’t gonna work in the factory
get splinters in my toes”
– from The Factory Girl Song.
Americans believe in factories. According to a study by the Manufacturing Institute, 90% of Americans think a robust manufacturing base is vital to the U.S. economy and many would welcome a manufacturing facility in their community.
But only if someone else is working there, apparently. The same study reveals that very few Americans want to work in manufacturing themselves, and only one in three would encourage their children to pursue manufacturing careers. The younger the respondent, the less attractive manufacturing becomes, with people between the ages of 19 and 33 ranking it dead last as a career choice.
Why this disconnect? Why, if Americans think manufacturing is so important, do so few want to work in the industry or encourage their children to do so?
The main problem is image. Many Americans cling to the outdated notion of manufacturing as low-skilled, menial work. A poll conducted by the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association (FMA) found that 61% of teenagers have no interest in manufacturing because they prefer to pursue a “professional” career. They don’t think manufacturing jobs are intellectually rewarding and they don’t see opportunities for career development or advancement in the factory.
Many people also think – incorrectly – of manufacturing as dirty or dangerous, picturing huge, clanking machines on dusty shop floors. With that image in mind, its no surprise that young women, in particular, do not see a future for themselves in that kind of workplace. In fact, women make up only 24% of manufacturing jobs, though they constitute around 50% of the overall U.S. workforce.
These perceptions are reinforced and perpetrated constantly by the media, popular culture, and even the national community of college counselsors that largely refuses to acknowledge – let alone encourage – careers in manufacturing as a viable and attractive option for an ambitious young person.
The problem is, these perceptions are all wrong.
The technological advances of the last few decades have transformed manufacturing workplaces into gleaning, modern state of the art hubs of innovation and industry that bear no resemblance to the factories of yore. Manufacturing today is “smart” and it requires smart people. Modern factories are high-tech and fully networked, relying on complex computers and machines. And factory workers need both production skills and technical knowledge to run them, completely redefining what was once considered “blue-collar” work.
Modern factory workers specialize in engineering, electronics, information technology, robotics, mechatronics, design, and research and development. They understand and repair complex machines and computers, analyze data, and manage production systems in real time. These are challenging, sophisticated jobs that require thought and creativity and problem- solving skill.
Modern manufacturing jobs are not only challenging, but also well-paying. In fact, they pay around 20 percent more than work in other industries, with the average manufacturing worker earning over $77,000 in 2013. Manufacturing executives are willing to pay top dollar for skilled workers precisely because the work is not low-skill or menial.
Due in large part to the unfavorable impression many Americans have of manufacturing careers, there is a profound shortage of skilled workers in the field. The greatest shortages are in technology and computer skills. In other words, in order to stay globally competitive, and keep factories and jobs on our shores, companies desperately need people with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills, as well as strong foundation skills like problem-solving and critical thinking.
The good news is that if you have these skills, you will find plenty of well-paying manufacturing jobs practically at your fingertips. In fact, 80 percent of manufacturing executives say they are willing to pay above market rates to hire qualified people because they are in such short supply. And if you are a woman you may fare even better; the industry is making a particular effort to welcome young women, by taking measures to make them aware of the variety of career options available in manufacturing, and publically recognizing women who currently hold leadership positions in the field.
How does one get the skills for this brave new world of high-tech factory work? Many of the jobs in manufacturing require some post-secondary education, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. You can get the requisite in-demand skills through apprenticeship, which combines structured, paid, on-the-job training with classroom learning. You can complete a certification program, and gain a recognized, portable, industry-wide credential. Or you can get an associate’s degree that mixes practical experience with relevant academic study.
The jobs are there, the pay is high, and the opportunities are abundant. It’s a good time to work in the factory.
Raed this and more articles by Nicholas Wyman on Forbes