An important issue that has had major implications in manufacturing is its public perception. In the past, manufacturing has suffered from being viewed as “dirty and unsafe” with “little or no skill” required to perform manufacturing jobs (Rosendin and Gielcyzk). Since then, perception of manufacturing in the United States has improved, but it has also gotten complicated. An overall positive view of manufacturing is also met with certain false impressions and widespread individual disinterest from a potential career standpoint. While the majority may look favorably at manufacturing and think it’s on the upswing, young people don’t see it as something they would pursue, and parents tend to agree with those views. Identifying where this disconnect is coming from is an important step in solving the problem.
The demand for manufacturing workers is projected to greatly outpace the talent supply and cause a “critical skills gap issue” over the next 10 years (Griffi et al.). Here’s the conundrum: improving overall public perception of the manufacturing industry in itself does not drive improvement regarding individuals’ career interest in manufacturing. So, the overwhelming optimism regarding future manufacturing being “clean and safe”, requiring “high-tech skills”, and being driven by innovation is often overshadowed by perceptions among young people that manufacturing careers are not viable. The issue also falls on parents’ misconceptions that manufacturing jobs are not “interesting, rewarding, clean, safe, stable, and secure” (Griffi et al.). As a result, parents are not “likely to encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career” (Griffi et al.). Misconceptions like these are problematic, but there are specific ways these concerns can be addressed.
Dispelling these career-related misconceptions is an important step for driving interest in the manufacturing industry, especially when faced with fierce competition from tech companies and international manufacturing in attracting talent. The truth is, manufacturing jobs have the “highest [tenure of workers] among all private-sector industries” and have had very low turnover/quit rates from 2011-2016 (Griffi et al.). Manufacturing workers also average almost “$20,000 more, including pay and benefits, compared to the average employee working in other industries” (Griffi et al.).
Another way to get young people interested in manufacturing jobs and career paths is exposure and familiarity. Getting students involved in STEM programs that include project-based learning and real-world manufacturing scenarios can do wonders for generating and increasing their interest in manufacturing (Portz). This type of connection between academia and industry can ultimately help to narrow the skills gap and increase the manufacturing talent pipeline. This can be especially beneficial for small- to mid-sized manufacturers that “don’t have the resources to develop and test new curricula” themselves (Rosendin and Gielcyzk). Getting the word out about the positive truths of manufacturing and students’ early exposure to hands-on, skills-based curricula that STEM programs provide can help to close the projected gap in the U.S. manufacturing labor pipeline and ultimately ensure a strong future for manufacturing in the country.
Griffi, Craig, Michelle Drew Rodriguez, and Sandeepan Mondal. “How modern manufacturers can create positive perceptions with the US public”. Deloitte Development LLC, 2017.
Portz, Stephen M. ” Project-Based Learning + Real-World Manufacturing + Industrial Partnerships = Powerful STEM Education”. Tech Directions: Vol. 73(7) p. 11-14. February 2014.
Rosendin, Nadine and Gielcyzk, Anne. “Narrowing the Skills Gap to Ensure the Future of Manufacturing: Boeing and CTE”. Techniques, January 2018. p. 20-23.