On October 4, hundreds of manufacturers nationwide will invite thousands of students, educators, and legislators to their facilities to highlight the significance of manufacturing and display the dozens upon dozens of clean, good-paying, and technologically driven jobs available throughout the industry.
But with manufacturing still having something of an unflattering image and overall interest in the industry still down, will swinging the doors open for a VIP look inside give the profession the shot in the arm it sorely needs?
Where will you be on October 4? Ed Youdell is planning where he will be.
He is likely to take his two sons and their classmates to a famous manufacturing facility in Chicago, where gaining access should be rather easy. “I am fortunate enough that my wife’s family business invented the popcorn machine,” he says gleefully.
“Of course, the end product of popcorn machines is great-tasting popcorn,” Youdell adds during an interview with Industry Today. “I think the kids will better understand what manufacturing is all about if I connect the tastiness of popcorn to the equipment that makes it.”
And, if by some chance, the kids leave with a yearning to pursue a career in manufacturing, that is more than fine with Youdell.
In fact, that is even better.
Youdell is the President and CEO of the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, which, for over 40 years, has worked with more than 2,300 individual and company members to improve the metal forming and fabricating industry.
Manufacturing Day was Youdell’s brainchild. On Friday, October 4 it will again bring to light the growing importance of manufacturing to the nation’s wellbeing while also drawing attention to the industry’s satisfyingly high skill – and in many cases, high paying – jobs. Participating manufacturers will do this via open houses, public tours, career workshops, and other various local events.
“It is a day where manufacturers are invited and encouraged to open their shops to their communities, their students, their educators, and their legislators, so that we can get folks inside the doors and begin changing the perception of what manufacturing is and start getting people interested in the single most important sector of the economy,” Youdell says.
He adds that the event’s producers – his Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, plus the National Association of Manufacturers, the Manufacturing Institute, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership – have been working at length with thousands of their members and clients to promote the event and encourage participation. The celebration is backed by numerous sponsors and endorsers, including this very publication. The Science Channel is also onboard, as is Industrial Strength Marketing, a promotion agency based in the greater Nashville metropolitan area that specializes in servicing the manufacturing sector.
Last October, in its inaugural year, Manufacturing Day held more than 240 events in manufacturing facilities, shops, and factories in 37 states. More than 7,000 people participated. This year’s goal is to attract at least 500 events and 15,000 visitors, Youdell says.
“Participants got to know the level of sophistication associated with and used every day in manufacturing,” Youdell says when asked what kind of feedback he received following Manufacturing Day last year. “Employees invited their families, who, in turn, invited their friends. And children had their first glimpse into what mom and dad do and where they go to work every morning.”
He adds, “Some left thinking manufacturing was cool, but more importantly, a great number left saying, ‘I had no idea that was what manufacturing was all about.’ That is really the impression the day creates.”
The more that happens, the better manufacturing will be long term, if recent employment figures are any indication. Not only is participation in this year’s Manufacturing Day greatly appreciated and welcomed, it is also urgently needed.
Youdell knows what most people – particularly teens – think of Apple, the outrageously popular and profitable designer, developer and seller of consumer electronics and computer software and hardware.
“Apple is cool, that is what all the kids think,” he says. “They think it’s this very high-tech company – and it certainly is.”
But, above all, it is also something else. “It’s a manufacturer,” he says. “They make those products. They design them, test them, build them, and sell them. They are a manufacturer.”
The aforementioned example is one of the ways Youdell gets the attention of the best and brightest minds who do not have manufacturing on their minds when they think of future employment.
Do you want to make cool stuff, like tablets or cars or video game systems? Get into manufacturing, he stresses. That’s your golden ticket.
However, few are cashing in, unfortunately. They are more like ripping up the ticket and tossing it away, like a used stub.
As a result, even in an era when overall unemployment remains dangerously high, manufacturing still cannot find the type of quality workers it sorely needs. Paul Kuchuris, President of Association of Manufacturing Excellence, told Industry Today earlier this year that American manufacturing continues to have around 600,000 vacancies. Think about it: That is over a half million job opening descriptions that list required skills and expertise that few candidates, if any, have.
Youdell adds the number of unfilled posts could grow in the near future when you take into account that the average manufacturing employee, who is somewhere in his or her 50s, nears retirement and begins to leave the workforce.
“We need to have a pipeline of workers coming up behind them, well-educated folks that will take over those jobs and keep the U.S. competitive in a global environment,” he says. “It is important, strategically, for the U.S. to continue to make things here. We do not want to lose that ability.”
But so far that pipeline is barebones empty. Youthful yet brainy minds, outfitted with hard-to-find skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, are simply not interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing.
They are mindful of what they heard growing up, that manufacturing is an exhaustingly physical and absurdly redundant profession. It is a dirty job. The pay is rubbish. It certainly does not require a quick-thinking, analytical mind. It is a line of work for the very desperate, for those who underachieved in the classroom and cannot get into a better vocation.
I want you to have a better life than I had is a common theme expressed by former manufacturing parents. You do not want to work in those conditions, with those people, for that pay.
All of this would be true, Youdell says – if this were still the 1970s. But it’s not, and oh, so much has changed in over four decades.
“There is a huge misunderstanding of what manufacturing is and what it means,” Youdell says. “One in six jobs in the private sector is in manufacturing. About 17 million workers are in manufacturing. There are many family-supporting wage jobs available, thousands of them, because there is an undersupply of talent in the manufacturing supply chain.”
It is also clean, he says. Plant floor jobs look remarkably different – and spotless – from the ones their baby boomer parents were offered near the start of their careers. There is now a growing amount of high-tech machinery spread across the typical manufacturing floor. Automation is widespread, and advanced manufacturing technologies are being deployed that need and require supremely educated and critical thinkers.
“Manufacturers are not going to turn these million-dollar pieces of equipment over to someone who does not have the needed education or understanding of how to properly operate them,” Youdell says. “These technologies help keep the U.S. competitive on a world stage, but we need skilled workers to operate them.”
Of course, none of the aforementioned information and insight is groundbreaking. Manufacturing has been severely plagued by an extreme shortage of skilled workers for years. Most executives, legislators, regulators, and educators got the memo long ago.
Accordingly, steps have been taken to improve the grim forecast. The steps certainly not have been tremendous or particularly noteworthy, but progress is being made, albeit at a snail’s pace. According to Youdell, no one deserves more kudos than manufacturers themselves.
“Progress is starting to be made because manufacturers, in general, are people who will take things into their own hands,” he explains. “They will not wait around for the government to solve this problem.”
He says his organization continues to get more and more stories about manufacturers that are successfully collaborating with their local community colleges, technical institutions, and high schools in order to start filling the talked-about employment pipeline.
Industrialists host tours – not just on Manufacturing Day, but also on multiple occasions throughout the year – to help jumpstart curiosity in the sector. They blow their own horn about what they make and how they make it and how handsomely they are compensated for their brilliance and hard work. They creatively and artistically paint a vibrant portrait not of griminess, poverty, and tiredness, but of state-of-the-art machinery, mastermind employees, and long lasting and fulfilling careers with profitable bottom lines.
“This is one of the trends that are going to continue to be important to this dilemma as we go forward,” he says.
Nevertheless, manufacturers need to be mindful of what they offer employees who are everything they want, Youdell adds.
“The other piece of this is that manufacturers need to be sure that they are providing competitive wages,” he days. “They need to understand that in a marketplace where there are many options, they need to be competitive in attracting the kind of people they want. I think manufacturers understand that piece of it more and more all the time.”
So, has the gap closed much at all? Not yet, Youdell says. Buckle up. We still have a long way to go.
“However, the building blocks are slowing getting into place where in maybe five years from now, we will finally see a strong acceleration of that gap beginning to close,” Youdell says. “We still have the best engineers, and we still have the greatest environment for innovation. We just need to make sure the public is made aware of these strengths in order to sustain and continue growth in our global market – and Manufacturing Day is one way to do it.”
The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA) is a professional organization with more than 2,300 individual and company members working together to improve the metal forming and fabricating industry. Founded in 1970, FMA brings metal fabricators and equipment manufacturers together through technology councils, educational programs, networking events. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is the largest manufacturing association in the U.S., representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the U.S. The Manufacturing Institute is a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to improving and expanding manufacturing in the United States. It is affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers and can best be described as part think tank, part solutions center. The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) works with small and mid-sized U.S. manufacturers to help them create and retain jobs, increase profits, and save time and money. The nationwide network provides a variety of services, from innovation strategies to process improvements to green manufacturing.