Business, Employment Up for Manufacturers
Will there be enough skilled workers to keep up with demand as the economy recovers?
By Bill DeRosa
According to a national poll conducted in November by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International (FMA), the manufacturing sector is poised for economic recovery.
Seventy-two percent of the 237 manufacturing executives, supervisors, and engineers surveyed report that business was either “much better” (31%) or “somewhat better” (41%) in 2010 when compared with 2009. Another 18% said business was neither better nor worse, and only 10% said it was worse.
The uptick in business has had a positive impact on hiring, the poll suggests. Nearly half of the respondents (47%) said their companies added permanent full-time staff in 2010, and another 30% hired temporary workers to handle increased work. Some 17% said that although no new employees had been hired, current employees were working additional hours. Eleven percent reported no staff cutbacks, and a mere 3% said their firms had laid people off in 2010.
“Economic reports have indicated the manufacturing sector is adding to capacity despite the still weak consumer demand in the United States,” says Dr. Chris Kuehl, economic analyst for FMA. “The fact is that consumers in other parts of the world have been active, and the U.S. manufacturing community has been getting more skilled at reaching those markets.”
Although those results are encouraging, an earlier poll conducted by FMA’s foundation, Nuts Bolts & Thingamajigs (NBT), showed that the manufacturing sector may have difficulty filling the positions needed to maintain anticipated future growth. The national poll, conducted in 2009, surveyed 500 teenagers about their level of interest in manufacturing careers. The results were troubling.
The poll showed that a majority of teens (52%) have little or no interest in a manufacturing career, and another 21% are ambivalent. When asked why, 61% said they seek a professional career, far surpassing other reasons, such as pay (17%), career growth (15%), and physical work (14%).
Any effort to turn attitudes around and spark interest in manufacturing careers faces several obstacles, including the fact that factory work is sometimes maligned in pop culture and the media. Perhaps more problematic is teens’ limited exposure to what are often called the “manual arts.”
The poll shows that while 58% of teens have completed a home economics course, only 28% havetaken an industrial arts or shop class. Six in 10 teens have never visited or toured a factory or other manufacturing facility.
Shifting the Paradigm
What will it take to change young people’s views and generate more interest in manufacturing careers? CBIA’s Education Foundation, headed up by Executive Director Judy Resnick, has been leading several efforts to increase student and parent awareness of employment opportunities in manufacturing.
Last November, the foundation conducted a two-day expo on high-tech manufacturing at Naugatuck Valley Community College. Hundreds of Waterbury-area students, teachers, and business leaders attended. A similar event is planned for later this month at Manchester Community College. CBIA administers manufacturing expos on behalf of the Connecticut Community Colleges’ College of Technology Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing with funding from the National Science Foundation.
“So many young people have outdated perceptions of what working in modern manufacturing is like: and how much it pays,” says Resnick. “It’s a field that requires a high level of creativity and technical skill, and it’s not uncommon for someone to earn as much as $75,000 annually only a few years after high school. Now it’s a matter of getting the word out and making sure students are aware of the opportunities.”
Bill DeRosa is editor of CBIA News. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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