Dirty. Dangerous. Mind-numbing.
That is what a large percentage of American teenagers think of manufacturing. Fifty-two percent of the same group have no interest whatsoever in a manufacturing career. And in the most recent U.S. Public Opinions on Manufacturing report by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, manufacturing came in last as the career of choice among Generation Y (ages 19-33 years).
It's safe to call it a crisis. U.S. manufacturers need skilled workers and they need them now.
Dr. Charles (Chip) Blankenship, president and chief executive officer of GE Appliances & Lighting tells Deloitte:
We cannot fully realize the renaissance of U.S. manufacturing unless and until we solve the manufacturing skills gap. Manufacturers are the key to solving this problem. By aligning together and clearly defining their needs—and speaking with one voice, they can work with secondary and post-secondary schools and government to create a system that attracts, develops, and retains skilled manufacturing talent.
A new study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, "The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing 2015 and beyond," illustrates just how dire the situation has become. Just consider the following figures:
- Six out of 10 manufacturing positions remain unfulfilled because of the talent shortage.
- 82% of executives say the skills gap will impact their ability to meet customer demand.
- 78% of executives indicate it will be hamper their ability to implement new technologies and increase productivity.
- Two million workers will be needed to cover the projected shortfall as only 1.4 million out of 3.4 million positions are expected to be filled over the next decade.
The implications are significant considering every 100 jobs in manufacturing generate 250 jobs in other sectors.
Amid the barrage of efforts by the industry, state and local governments, communities, and educational institutions to reverse the trend, changing the prevailing negative perception among young people of the manufacturing industry seems particularly important.
While manufacturing has gone high-tech, perceptions have apparently not evolved. To the teenage eye, manufacturing is no more exciting than, as the saying goes, "watching paint dry." According to the Deloitte study, they think of it as a dead end with minimal opportunity for personal growth or career advancement.
In addition, their parents' own negative view of the field may play a large role in the disinterest. As many as two thirds of the respondents indicated they would not encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career, mostly because of job stability and security.
The sight of abandoned factory buildings serves as a constant reminder of the American manufacturing collapse. Convincing the public – young and old – that the manufacturing industry really is undergoing a renaissance and is worth investing in may be more challenging than some think.
The spotlight needs to be on the high-tech environment of manufacturing. New technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, and advanced analytics, should demonstrate that a career in manufacturing does not entail working in a "dirty, dangerous place that requires little thinking or skill..."
Perceptions need to change – fast.
What do you think should be done to improve the reputation of the manufacturing industry among teenagers?