Careers in manufacturing can pay well, offer opportunities for advancement, and be both interesting and rewarding. However, while parents may not actively discourage their children from pursuing such a career, it seems they don’t encourage it either.


Consider, for instance, findings from a new survey conducted for Alcoa Foundation in partnership with SkillsUSA. The “2015 Parents’ Perceptions of Manufacturing Survey”—conducted in May by Toluna—surveyed more than 1,000 parents of children ages six-17. The intent is to debunk stereotypes about careers and education within Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, and educate people about the rewarding job opportunities in the manufacturing field, Alcoa explains.


Not surprising, the results show that most (90 percent) of surveyed parents worry about their child’s future career options given the state of the U.S. economy, and 87 percent of the parents say they believe STEM education is critical for economic success. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of the parents believe a good job requires a four-year bachelor’s degree. Interestingly, 34 percent of the parents don’t think jobs in the manufacturing or trade industries require college or higher education, and only 12 percent of them believe jobs in manufacturing are “recession proof.”


“Parents have some awareness about manufacturing careers, but there are still looming misperceptions about the robust, exciting prospects for their sons and daughters, especially as more than half of manufacturers see a shortage of manufacturing talent,” says Tim Lawrence, executive director of SkillsUSA, a not-for-profit association that serves more than 300,000 high school, college and postsecondary students in trade, technical and skilled service instructional programs. “Students have plenty of options to explore within the field of STEM education and manufacturing careers, and may earn strong wages and benefits.”


The surveyed parents have a number of other notable misperceptions as well. For example, most of the surveyed parents (89 percent) estimate the average hourly wage of manufacturing jobs to be between $7 and $22 per hour. The average actually is much higher--$34 per hour—according to The Manufacturing Institute.


Finally, the surveyed parents also have little confidence in the industry’s compensation, benefits and intellectually stimulating work opportunities. According to the survey results, about one-in-five parents think that manufacturing jobs provide only minimum wage salaries, don’t offer benefits, and don’t offer innovative and intellectually stimulating work. It’s important to note that those perceptions don’t reflect reality. As the report explains, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the average annual salary for entry-level manufacturing engineers is $60,000, 90 percent of manufacturing workers have medical benefits, and manufacturing workers have the highest job tenure in the private sector.


Unfortunately, I can’t say the survey results are unexpected. The good news from a study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute last year showed that 90 percent of respondents rank manufacturing as “important” or “very important” to the U.S. economy. Further, eighty-two percent of Americans believe the U.S. should invest more heavily in manufacturing.


As a Deloitte report summarizing the results of that survey notes, more than half of respondents believe manufacturing jobs are interesting and rewarding, but there still exist negative perceptions toward manufacturing—particularly in terms of likelihood of jobs being moved offshore. Indeed, job stability and security was the most common reason given as to why respondents would not encourage someone from a younger generation to pursue a career in manufacturing. Most troubling is that only 37 percent of respondents indicate they would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.


I’d like to know your thoughts about how the manufacturing industry as a whole can educate parents, and students, about what a career in manufacturing is really like. What role do you think creating and promoting STEM programs in schools may play in those efforts?