U.S. manufacturers open their doors and show what they can do

October 4, 2012

The future of U.S. manufacturing could lie with the youth of the nation as the industry continues to rebrand itself as a great place to work.

According to the Chicago Tribune, factory owners have been opening their doors to schools and colleges across the country to give a potential workforce the chance to see how products are made. The manufacturing industry is aware that appealing to high-school graduates and students with STEM education skills is not going to be easy, but with 600,000 U.S jobs currently unfilled, the aim is draw attention to what the industry actually produces.

Though manufacturing has been perceived as dirty and dangerous work, a conception that harks back to images that are decades-old, increased technology and modern working practices are now standard in the production process. Companies now rely on a manufacturing and business strategy to produce goods for both the domestic and overseas markets, a valuable part of the overall U.S. economy that ensures that communities have access to products.

"One of the biggest problems we have is the misperception of what manufacturing is," said Roger Kilmer, director of the manufacturing extension program at the National Institute of Standards & Technology. "Workforce is our biggest challenge. What we need are more folks who have basic math, engineering and technology skills."

Much like other industries, manufacturing is finding it hard to find the right talent to fit the holes created by a number of policies that encouraged companies to look overseas for production, a trend that seems to be reversing as U.S. manufacturers promote the low labor costs and established product quality. Recent figures show that the industry is slowly expanding, a situation that will require the right workforce to continue growth as the economy recovers.

Business leaders are aware that attracting young and enthusiastic talent will be an uphill task, with some in the industry believing that school leavers lack the required skills for a manufacturing job. Federal and state educators have been instrumental in increasing the profile of science, technology, engineering and math programs in schools, all essential parts of the modern manufacturing world and skills that come into play when firms consider the next innovative move.

"We are always going to have that kind of ingenuity in the U.S., but we need the youth to follow the manufacturing spirit," says Tom Ward, owner of Ward Manufacturing, Evanston, Illinois.