I am considering a career in manufacturing, but my friends think it is a bad choice. Why does manufacturing have a bad reputation?
Everyone seeking career advice is asking the same question. There are plenty of career options within manufacturing, but it has a public opinion problem and needs a reputation makeover. Manufacturing is considered an unattractive job prospect, however with plenty of jobs now available it may be time to reconsider your choices.
The sector has a significant shortage of skilled workers, with companies having difficulty in finding and hiring qualified workers. Students are an idealistic bunch so working at a meat processing plant, major oil company, hydraulic fracturing firm, or nuclear power plant may not appeal to their moral compass. In recent years, catastrophes have plagued heavy industry, with BP’s Deepwater Horizon, Fukushima and global warming, all causing grads to avoid related career fields.
There is also a perception of low wages, factory-life drudgery and job insecurity, rather than a lucrative position in business or technology. This stigma has kept graduates from entering manufacturing for a generation. Nobody wants to go into debt and study for four years only to work in a dirty and dangerous factory.
In reality, this description is the exact opposite of a modern, clean, self-automated, and high-tech factory. According to the National Academy of Engineering, the U.S. is still the world’s leading innovative country. However, growing economies around the world are investing more into research and education, competing with the U.S. for its top spot.
With the number of retiring workers at an all-time high, companies are struggling to fill manufacturing positions with the next generation of workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country will need 190,000 new hires every year just to replace the current retiring manufacturing workforce. Detroit automakers and suppliers report a dire shortage of skilled workers to fill the growing number of positions, say executives at a Ford dealership. With an economic goal in Washington to return manufacturing to the U.S., workers are increasingly needed to fill positions created from growth and expansion.
A lot of the manual work has been replaced by robots and automation, and factories today are far more sanitary. To lure more employees, one stamping press repair company has been hosting apprentices and providing plant tours to students so that they can see the changes themselves.
There is a big push for educational changes and more STEM graduates from both high school and college. Developing problem-solving skills at school is essential to building a future generation of scientists and engineers. Funding cuts have been blamed for diminishing hands-on practical education at schools, and access to real-world manufacturing companies.
Our throw-away society also discourages the fixing of appliances that was commonplace decades ago. Today’s technological devices are designed to be thrown away and replaced instead of repaired. This instills certain values and perceptions starting at a young age that is part of the bias against manufacturing. While manufacturing has come a long way from smoke-belching factories, until it loses its poor reputation it may not grow at the rate needed by our economy.
Whatever happened to the good ole days, when children worked in factories… Emo Philips.
Written by John Regan, former Director of Sales, for equity research.