Help Wanted: How the Manufacturing Industry’s Image is Hurting It’s Future

Today, there seems to be very little good news for the manufacturing industry… unless you’re working in it.

In reality, this year, manufacturing is projected to grow faster than the economy overall, and by the end of next year, the industry will have rebounded completely from the 2009 Great Recession. Following the recent tax reform, more manufacturers are hiring, increasing wages and investing in facilities according to a recent National Association of Manufacturers survey. Despite the growth in the industry, the number of unfilled positions in manufacturing could explode to 10 million in the next decade.

So where’s the disconnect between millions of open, good-paying jobs in a growing industry and the people who have the skills to succeed in these careers?

In short, the manufacturing industry has an image problem, a BIG one.

In a recent Deloitte, National Association of Manufacturers, and Manufacturing Institute report, only about one in three Americans would encourage their kids to pursue a career in manufacturing, even though the vast majority of Americans continue to see the manufacturing industry as vital to maintaining American economic prosperity.  Manufacturing jobs aren’t seen as stable, interesting, rewarding, secure, clean or safe by most people surveyed either.

This image problem is driving, in part, the recruiting challenges that plague the industry. To fix it, the industry has to change the way it thinks, not only about who it targets for recruiting, but about how it invests in and develops its workforce.

That means thinking about how to attract women as well as men to careers in the industry – something that could help fill vacant positions and help close the gender pay gap. Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, especially in working-class communities, present opportunities to people to build good careers after they graduate from high school. Unfortunately, women who pursued CTE were less likely to be employed than young men who enrolled in these kinds of vocational high school programs. That has to change. Young women present an opportunity for the industry to shift its image and begin to solve its recruiting challenges.

It also means understanding the potential and skills of the current manufacturing workforce so that employers can make smart, additional investments in modern manufacturing tools. AI and automation continue to dramatically change what it means to work in manufacturing. These changes are better for the bottom line, the safety and cleanliness of the plants, and for the workforce, because often, they mean more challenging, rewarding and interesting jobs for people. People who will continue to power this industry and its growth. Those who decide to build their people today, will be in a better position for challenges of the future, and will have strengthened a critical recruiting and retention tool. In fact, Millennials are twice as likely to stay with a company that offers significant development opportunities and mentoring.

Manufacturing makes up about 12% of the U.S. GDP, and for some states, like Indiana for example, it generates about 30% of the state’s GDP. It can’t afford to continue to be seen as an industry in decline. If it can separate fact from fiction, manufacturers will be able to capitalize on opportunities to not only grow their workforce today, but to change, for the better, the way future generations see jobs in manufacturing.

Kristen Johnson, Communications and Marketing