Cutting Tool Engineering
December 2011 / Volume 63 / Issue 12

Manufacturing: The comeback kid

By Keith Jennings

As we approach the end of 2011, the coming year is shaping up to be very interesting. A presidential election, stubbornly high unemployment and a challenging economy are contributing to an increasing recognition of manufacturing careers and the need for more skilled employees. Even the media has jumped on the bandwagon.

For job shops and other part manufacturers, this should be a positive turn of events as educational institutions recognize more and more that manufacturing positions offer tremendous value to their communities. These schools are realizing the potential of manufacturers to provide great career choices whether the candidate is university material or not. The distorted image of a grimy, loud shop has been dispelled and more accurately discovered to be a hotbed of technology and innovation.

The community college in my area has recognized this skills demand and created an entire curriculum dedicated to manufacturing occupations. My own research has shown this same trend is occurring across the country, as many job vacancies go unfilled even during a period of high unemployment.

Numerous reasons exist for this resurgence, but the bottom line is educational institutions need students and manufacturers have become more vocal in publicizing their urgent need for skilled workers. As a result, schools have found a potential way to increase enrollment. In addition, with the dollar trading lower against other currencies, even foreign companies are looking to invest and expand in the U.S., in many cases acquiring U.S. companies and adding jobs.

Large companies certainly offer many great opportunities, but most manufacturers are smaller shops like mine and probably yours. Like those larger companies, we need more access to better trained employees who can program and operate the high-tech, CNC equipment necessary to compete. One of the ways to gain access to these potential employees is to develop a rapport with local schools to ensure they’re aware of the demand. Most schools welcome input about needed skill sets if you’re willing to give it. While your free time is likely limited, from my experience, giving them feedback is rarely disruptive. To the schools’ credit, they’ve identified manufacturing occupations as valid and are taking steps to address the shortfall of qualified workers.

Some companies aren’t waiting around and are launching apprenticeship programs to fill critical positions, even offering sizable salaries if apprentices complete 1- or 2-year programs. That’s quite a different attitude compared to a few years ago, when offshoring was all the rage.

Finally, after decades of reducing these positions, largely held by those without college degrees, the situation is turning around. Once again, people are aware that manufacturing jobs can offer great training and high salaries for many. Shop managers and owners must work with educational institutions to develop the next generation of workers. Hopefully the result will be improved employee quality and a higher standard of living for those who participate.

Whether a shop has two people or 200, the value to its community is critical and, thankfully, that’s being recognized once again. From local community colleges to state governments to President Obama himself, the desire to rebuild our manufacturing base is prevalent, and we’re all the better for it. Let’s do our part to help make it happen.

Happy holidays to you and your company! CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping. Contact him at kjennings@jwr.com.
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