Where's The Disconnect?
Recent data shows job opportunities in the manufacturing industry are growing, but employers in the field are struggling to find employees.
This project, produced by Connecticut Public Learning’s Media Lab interns, is an effort to identify specific reasons causing the gap between people and placement in the manufacturing industry.
Most Americans value the manufacturing field as an important part of the United States economy, but many of them don’t want to be a part of it, according to a recent study by Deloitte and The National Association of Manufacturers,
The 2017 study, completed with the help of an independent research company, found that more than 80% of Americans believe manufacturing is vital to the nation’s economic prosperity, but less than half view jobs in the field as rewarding, interesting, safe, clean, and secure.
So why don’t Americans want to get involved? Many say it’s simply an outdated awareness, or lack of awareness about the field.
Some of these students don’t even know what manufacturing is...
Jeffrey Pearce, CCAT
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Find out more about manufacturing opportunities in Connecticut
I found out there’s more to it than just machines...
Elisabeth Lundequist, Age 14
In fact, less than half of Americans believe the school system in their community provides exposure to skills necessary for a manufacturing career; and only 24% of those surveyed say their local school system encourages students to take up a career in the industry, according to the study. This may be why companies like Wepco Plastics in Middlefield, Connecticut are witnessing a low number of applicants.
Charles Daniels, Wepco Plastics‘ Chief Financial Officer says adults need to do a better job of advocating for careers in manufacturing. The study reports less than one-third of Americans would encourage their children to pursue a career in the field.
And Wepco Plastics isn’t the only employer seeking applicants. Eighty-four percent of manufacturers report a moderate or serious shortage of qualified workers, according the study.
So how can manufacturers make the field more attractive? Education seems to be the key. In Connecticut, manufacturing companies like Wepco Plastics have been teaming up with community partners like the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, a non-profit organization aimed at spreading awareness and education around the fields of technology and manufacturing.
Each year, CCAT hosts workshops across the state targeted at middle-school aged students. Held at various technical high schools, the Young Manufacturers Academy exposes students to the field through hands-on activities over the course of 8-days. The goal is to inspire a new generation of manufacturers.
Lack of awareness has been one of the largest issues. There’s a stigma... It would be nice to judge schools on how many people graduate and go on to a successful, meaningful career.
Charles Daniels, Wepco Plastics
Deloitte reports programs like the Young Manufacturers Academy, as well as other internship, work studies, or apprenticeship programs find the most success in creating awareness and interest in manufacturing.
National programs like Manufacturing Day have also been proven to be beneficial to the industry’s perception. Produced by the National Association of Manufacturers and observed annually on the first Friday in October, the day is a celebration of modern manufacturing in an effort to inspire the next generation, according to the website.
As a result of Manufacturing Day 2016, almost 90% of participants reported they were more aware of manufacturing jobs in their community, 84% reported they were more convinced that manufacturing careers are interesting and rewards, and 64% of those surveyed said they were more motivated to pursue a career in manufacturing, according to the report.
The Connecticut Technical High School System is also helping to change the perspective around manufacturing careers through curriculum. It is reported that while less than 30% of Americans would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career, Americans who have exposure to the field are two times more likely to recommend manufacturing as a viable career choice than others, according to the study.
Parents and their children choose these schools for many different reasons. Some want to join the workforce and have a solid career right out of high school without facing the financial drain of college. Others hope that their technical degree will help better prepare for them for college. All, however, use these schools as resources to jumpstart their futures.
She’s got the skill now ... and then she’s going to get an education behind that.
Jean-Marie Shirshac, Parent of Windham Tech Graduate
The good thing is, public perception of the field is modernizing...slowly, but surely. The study reports 64% percent of respondents agreed that the US manufacturing industry is high-tech in 2017, a 19-point increase from 2014.
Helping to expedite that change in perception are technicians at Goodwin College’s Advanced Manufacturing Mobile Training Lab.
Director of Incumbent Workforce Training at Goodwin College Al Pucino says the future of manufacturing will likely focus on the programming of machines, instead of physical, hands-on work, as automation becomes more prevalent.
The 44-foot long, 12 foot-wide trailer features machines like a borescope, a robotic arm, and a 3D printer, and hosts classes surrounding quality control, technical skills, business management, and lean manufacturing. Open to employers and educators, the mobile lab can be booked for training sessions or student tours.
I love my job. It’s super hands-on. I absolutely see opportunity for promotion.
Brooks Couture, Plastics Manufacturer
In August, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics in reported that manufacturing employment rose by 37,000 in the month of July alone making the 12-month total for jobs added 327,000 - the highest 12 month total since April 1995.
Unemployed citizens from across the state reflect on previous experience in manufacturing:
- "I’ve done a lot of things." 0:34
- "I just need to take care of my house and my children." 1:13
- "At the time it was just to get a paycheck." 1:15
- "It was like another planet in there." 1:10
So what do potential employees value most? And how can employers meet those needs?
Americans surveyed want a job that provides them with strong benefits, followed by higher compensation and interesting and rewarding work. (See detailed results in the Deloitte study here.)
Deloitte outlines a couple of steps employers can take to ‘amplify the positive perception of modern manufacturing’ and recruit top talent:
- Get the good news out and dispel false impressions of the industry
- Highlight top priorities that people seek in a career
- Invest in and foster high-interest programs
- Create more awareness of events like Manufacturing Day
- Leverage segments with higher interest and perception levels
- Tap into the strong associations between manufacturing and economic prosperity
- Generate awareness around state-of-the-art advanced technologies critical to manufacturing
- Design collaboration initiatives that bring industry, government, and academia together
2018 Media Lab Interns: Samya Epps, John Williams, Abigail Golec, Jack Wislocki, Amar Batra, and Maggie Mahoney.
Overseen by Education Specialist Tikeyah Whittle and Director of Education Paul Pfeffer.