Let's Close The Skills Gap

Manufacturing jobs across the country are unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers, and this situation will only grow more problematic as the baby boomers retire. It’s time to take action.

By Timm Johnson, Contributing Editor

Take a walk out to your shop floor and tell me what you see.

For starters you probably see engineering, fabrication, and assembly cells, and some rather high-tech machinery used to support each of those functions. You also see employees working in those cells, using their skills and years of experience to get the job done professionally and on time.

Notice anything else about your workforce? Some of them may be graying and soon preparing to retire. The age of your workforce represents a good opportunity for qualified younger employees to step in and launch their career. The problem you face is finding that young person.

All around the country there are manufacturing jobs that employers are looking to fill. Sadly, there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill them. So just how many jobs are open? According to Businessweek.com, there are more than 600,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs that remain unfilled due to a lack of trained workers. In fact, in the United States, technicians and skilled trades represent two of the top three most difficult job categories for manufacturers to fill.

With unemployment still somewhat high in this country, why aren’t people looking at manufacturing as a viable career choice? It starts with perception. I think many people have a negative view toward manufacturing. All they see are dirty jobs, tall smoke stacks, and hot factories. While at one time that was true, those stereotypes are decades old, and anyone who’s been inside a manufacturing facility knows it’s an environment filled with cutting-edge technology that requires skill and training to work. But that’s part of the problem—people don’t know what it’s like because they’ve never been inside a plant. Those antiquated, negative perceptions are hampering the recruiting efforts of young people into the industry, and they need to be changed.

Engaging students
So how do we go about changing that perception and getting young people energized about manufacturing? I’d say let’s start engaging kids in grade school and emphasizing mathematics and science—the foundations they’ll need to pursue a career in high-tech industries such as manufacturing, packaging, engineering, etc. Organizations such as JumPPstart (www.pmmi.org) and Project Lead The Way (www.pltwy.org) are helping to pilot these efforts.

JumPPstart is an initiative between PMMI member companies in Milwaukee and Minneapolis that aims to connect with area high school students to promote careers in the packaging and processing industries. The goal is to engage students, parents, and school administrators to demonstrate career opportunities within the industry. In addition to Milwaukee and Minneapolis, a third will soon take root in Chicago.

Launched in 1997, Project Lead The Way is a non-profit organization that designs rigorous and innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricular programs taught in middle and high schools across the country.

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Spee-Dee® Packaging Machinery, Inc. is an industry leading supplier of powder fillers, auger fillers and dry product filling system solutions for the food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Since the 1940s, companies from around the world have turned to Spee-Dee for greatly improved efficiency and productivity. For more information about our dry product auger fillers, visit Spee-Dee’s web site at www.spee-dee.com or call 877-375-2121.