There’s a lot of talk about manufacturing jobs continuing to go away in this country. But when I talk to manufacturers, one of the biggest issues they talk about domestically is finding qualified help. Apprentice programs for tool and die makers are shrinking due to lack of interest. Even factory production jobs aren’t menial labor jobs anymore. It takes skill and training to run CNC or other sophisticated machines.
The same is true with professional tradesmen in the contracting field. Talk to a plumbing or electrical contractor and they say the same thing. There aren’t enough young folks getting into those trades as well.
So what’s the problem? A good plumber or electrician can make a very good living and their jobs can’t be outsourced. I used to belong to a country club and next to doctors, contractors were the next biggest category of members! NJATC, IBEW and other trade associations and unions have training programs in place. Spokespeople like Mike Rowe has a passion to get more people into the trades. He’s even testified in Washington about the challenges that face us as a nation.
The same holds true in the manufacturing sector. There are good jobs for those that are trained properly. I know Skills for America’s Future and the Manufacturing Institute are trying to work with community colleges to develop successful programs so young folks can enter the workforce with skill sets necessary to get and keep a good job. Even President Obama is endorsing a manufacturing skills credentialing system and I hope it’s going to be more than window dressing.
The problem, in my opinion, is perception by young people that those kinds of jobs aren’t cool and they are low paying. Also most guidance counselors with most high schools are pointing everyone to college. Not everyone is 4-year college material. What young people don’t realize is that a plumber or journeyman electrician makes more than 4-year college graduates and they don’t have all those student loans to pay off.
Our challenge as an industry is to somehow mount a campaign to kids at an early age to show them that these kinds of jobs are cool and just as important, if not more so, than someone sitting behind a desk. Ideally, trade and manufacturing associations should come together and mount a public service campaign. Someone has to take the first step and we need someone visible enough to carry the message and credibility to the young folks.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on how we can secure the future for our kids.