Connecting youth with manufacturing careers

Monday, November 20, 2017

Manufacturing has long been the backbone of the U.S. economy. Manufacturers continue to play a vital role in the country, despite a slowdown in recent years related to international imports. In 2016, manufacturers contributed $2.18 trillion to the economy.

While manufacturing jobs currently make up 9 percent of the workforce, outdated impressions of what it means to work in manufacturing are contributing to a “skills gap.” A majority of manufacturers — 80 percent — report they’re facing shortages of skilled workers. And this shortage may get worse before it gets better.

As one way to address this dilemma, the National Association of Manufacturers holds “Manufacturing Day.” This nationwide, annual event helps raise awareness about modern day manufacturing.

The idea is to improve public perception of the sector, and especially to connect with and educate young people. Nationally, the average manufacturing job pays $26 an hour and is more likely to offer healthcare and other benefits.

Such jobs require skills that can often be learned in specialized vocational training rather than the traditional (and typically more expensive) 4-year college degree.

The shorter training period, affordability, likelihood of easy job placement and good starting compensation all make a career path in manufacturing very attractive for young people. The challenge is to educate them about the opportunities.

Locally, Advanced Southwest Iowa was involved in promoting Manufacturing Day, along with the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, on October 6th. Though our region has ample job opportunities in manufacturing, students know little about the jobs local companies have available.

Advance Southwest Iowa and the chamber helped arrange tours at a number of places, including the City Water Treatment Facility, Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy (SIRE) and Warren Distribution. Each facility gave tours to students from area schools and the public. Students learned about each facility’s operations as well as details about the jobs needed to make them run. More than 140 people participated in the event.

“The students were amazed by the variety of jobs available at those industries,” says Lori Shields, head of marketing and workforce development at the Council Bluffs Area chamber. “They’re jobs you don’t think about because if you don’t understand the manufacturing process you don’t understand what goes into it.”

Shields notes these are skilled positions with good salaries and the tours opened a wonderful window of opportunity for the students.


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