In 2014, Deloitte, in conjunction with The Manufacturing Institute, surveyed more than 450 manufacturing executives for a report titled “The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing 2015 and beyond.”
“And beyond” strikes at the heart of the matter, in large part because of the “retirement exodus” of baby boomers leaving 2.7 million jobs by the year 2025.
According to the report, 90 percent of respondents said that the attractiveness of the manufacturing industry had a moderate to significant impact on the anticipated future talent shortage. Eighty-four percent thought school systems presented a moderate to significant impact.
“I believe there is not an attraction to fabrication jobs because society has taught us you have to have a white-collar job to be successful and make six figures,” says Chris Ritsema, owner of Canvas Innovations in Holland, Mich. “People don’t realize how much money can be made [in manufacturing].”
Clint Halladay, lead fabricator and production manager at Sewlong Custom Covers in Salt Lake City, Utah, posits that the lack of interest among young people in pursuing manufacturing jobs is, in part, that schools “are abandoning the mechanics and shop aspects of the educational curriculum” in favor of a focus on technology.
“I don’t think we, as an industry, do a good job of making it a viable career,” he continues. “When it comes to textiles, it’s a strong industry with many divisions. I feel we have to introduce high schools and colleges to the opportunities.”
“Most definitely there is a deficit of young people gaining interest in manufacturing jobs,” agrees Rob Kotowski, owner of Lake Shore Boat Top Co. in St. Clair Shores, Mich. “They are losing skilled trades classes in school, which is heartbreaking. I loved those classes when I was in school; I looked forward every day to learning and building projects.
“I think it would help for business owners to reach out, with other business owners, to stress the need for hands-on, skilled trade classes in middle and high schools — to introduce a potential career path for individuals where college might not be a great fit or an option.”
“Skills such as measuring, cutting, reading, and creating patterns and thinking logically through a fabrication process are missing,” says Amy Poe, owner of Wyckam in Portland, Ore. “There is plenty of emphasis on being artsy and craftsy, but very little focus on being accurate and precise.”
“I believe the millennial generation is looking for a place where they can be recognized — a place that embraces their ideas and recognizes their accomplishments,” Ritsema says. “I think those looking for long-term career placement want a place where they can grow, moving up through accomplishments.”
Janice Kleinschmidt is a writer and magazine editor based in San Diego.