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Manufacturing ‘Is A Career, Not A Job’

Published Sunday, November 15, 2020
by Mark C. Perna/Forbes
Manufacturing ‘Is A Career, Not A Job’

Has manufacturing missed out on an entire generation of Skilled Workers?

In Connecticut, manufacturing is a major player in the economy - bringing 161,000 jobs, $14.9 billion in wages and $123 million in corporate income tax to the state.

It’s too big to fail, but the state’s manufacturing training structures have atrophied.

Around 1980, high school machining and other manufacturing programs started falling by the wayside as parents and Educators increasingly embraced a “college for all” mindset.

With no students seeking those critical skills, schools reoriented their resources elsewhere.

This all began to turn around in 2010, when the state realized the pressing need to invest in manufacturing training.

In Connecticut alone, the manufacturing sector needs to fill 6,000 to 8,000 positions every year just to keep up with attrition.

Thirty-five percent of the state’s manufacturing workforce is 55 years old or older.

This is also the highest-skilled segment of the workforce and they’re retiring in droves.

Colin Cooper, CT’s first-ever Chief Manufacturing Officer, sees the impending Silver Tsunami with clarity: “If ‘we don’t fill demand, it will go somewhere else and be tough to get back.’”

Cooper’s role is to help promote a sustainable talent pipeline, attract new manufacturers to the state, and support those already there.

To do this, he must reach two critical audiences: Young people who will become the workforce of the future and their parents who will influence their career choices.

But there are major hurdles, not least of which is the ongoing perception of manufacturing as a dirty, low-paid, low-skilled field - in short, as a job rather than a career.

With the best intentions in the world, parents and Teachers have steered young people away from careers in advanced manufacturing.

It’s understandable, given the persistent stigmas that dog this industry.

And yet today, nothing could be further from the truth.

With the advent of more advanced technology, robotics and streamlined manufacturing processes, low-skilled positions in manufacturing have all but disappeared.

Gone are the grubby factories of the past.

Today, manufacturing is a high-precision field with the high-tech facilities to match.

“There’s ‘still a perception that manufacturing is dirty and loud and messy, and that’s just not the case,’” Cooper explains. “If you go into most of our manufacturing facilities now in the state, ‘they’re clean, they’re well organized and they’re just chock full of high-tech equipment.’”

To run a modern manufacturing facility, it’s high- and medium-skilled Workers that are in increasing demand.

Manufacturers must fill these positions to stay competitive in the global market.

But no one seems to know about these high-paying opportunities, as fully 89% of the state’s manufacturers say that recruiting Skilled Workers is their greatest challenge.

On the other hand, roughly 9,000 students graduate high school every year in Connecticut, but do not go on to college or the military.

“This is a ‘river of talent’ coming out of our comprehensive high schools,” Cooper says. “Through CTECS and other initiatives, ‘we’re working hard to provide manufacturing training opportunities to those folks.’  We do this by putting resources into the technical high schools and ‘investing in a network of nine advanced manufacturing centers in various community colleges around the state.’”

It’s a start.

Time will tell if it’s enough.

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