What do you picture when you think of “manufacturing plant floor?” To follow up, do you think there is a stigma associated with a manufacturing job?

 

Despite high unemployment since the recession, manufacturers still struggle to fill hundreds of thousands of job openings—typically citing a lack of skills among applicants. So one must ask whether enough is being done to recruit potential future workers as well as make manufacturing seem like an appealing career path.

 

A recent USA Today article puts a spotlight on a manufacturing program at a high school in Wheeling, IL. It’s one of a growing number of U.S. high schools that have launched or revived manufacturing programs in recent years to guide students toward good-paying jobs and help fill a critical shortage of skilled machinists, welders and maintenance technicians, the story explains.

 

Manufacturing courses were dropped from vocational education programs as the industry declined over the past three decades and no one tracks how many high schools offer them now. However, that may be changing. Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a provider of K-12 STEM programs. As a nonprofit organization, it delivers programs to more than 6,500 elementary, middle, and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Indeed, the group says the manufacturing class it designed for the Wheeling high school is now offered in about 800 schools—nearly twice as many schools as in 2009.

 

In their efforts to expand talent pools, manufacturers increasingly look to high schools and community colleges to fill current staffing needs and prepare for a continued wave Baby Boomer retirements. On the other hand, educators still struggle to dispel student’s misconceptions about the manufacturing industry, and also to get the students to consider a career in manufacturing before they choose other jobs or head to four-year colleges.

 

When the classes at the Wheeling high school started in 2008, instructors initially faced resistance from parents who are turned off by the manufacturing industry’s outdated image, and also are set on sending their children off to college, the USA Today article notes.

 

“You go up to a parent and you say ‘We have manufacturing classes’, and they walk away,” Wheeling teacher Michael Geist says in the article. “But you say ‘manufacturing-engineering’ and you show them the kinds of things kids are doing in class, and parents become excited.”

 

I do believe targeting high school students and promoting STEM along with manufacturing is a good idea, and one that’s necessary. I’m also interested in following news of President Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), and subsequent news that the Department of Labor will launch a $100 million American Apprenticeships Grant Competition to launch new apprenticeship models in high-growth fields such as advanced manufacturing, align apprenticeships with pathways for further learning and career advancement, and scale apprenticeship models that work.

 

AMP members Dow, Alcoa and Siemens have already launched new apprenticeship pilots and developed a “how-to” guide for other employers interested in using apprenticeship as a proven training strategy. The group plans to release an online manual that provides a road map for schools and employers.

 

Do you think creating high school manufacturing programs and promoting manufacturing in high schools is a critical endeavor? Also, do you think there is still a stigma associated with manufacturing, and that parents try to steer their kids away from that career path? If so, what can be done to further educate parents and fight that type of thinking?