Originally published in The Cap Times – November 14, 2019
Manufacturing jobs are high-tech jobs — and high-opportunity to boot.
Even though the manufacturing industry employs the second-highest number of Wisconsinites — surpassed only by trade, transportation and utilities — popular sentiment skews in other directions. Ninety percent of Americans agree we need manufacturing for a strong economy, but only 18% see it as a top-choice career. And a recent Glassdoor report listed the types of jobs that millennials most frequently applied for, with not a single traditional manufacturing job making the cut.
It’s time to change those perceptions. Today’s “industry 4.0” manufacturing jobs are high-skill and high-demand, requiring individuals with advanced technical abilities and a mastery of ever-changing technology — specifically, the internet of things (IOT), machine vision, artificial intelligence (AI), virtualization (AR/VR), cloud technology and cybersecurity. In fact, some manufacturers are already recruiting data scientists, one of the very same tech jobs that, per Glassdoor, millennials find most attractive.
Experts might see this, but the general public doesn’t — especially students and their parents. A mere 37% of parents urge their kids to look into manufacturing careers, and letting this stigma persist is something that the industry — and the state — can’t afford. We have to help students see that manufacturing is a great path toward opportunity, plus do a better job of preparing them for the multitude of positions expected to go unfilled through 2028. According to Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, that’s 2.4 million nationwide.
This starts with making changes to the way we educate our students. Specifically, it requires that we work with manufacturers to design curriculum that brings the industry to our students front and center, whether that’s in a brick-and-mortar classroom or a virtual one. When educators and employers jointly craft curriculum, it gives students a glimpse into the job opportunities and workplaces available to them, plus teaches them the skills employers find most valuable.
Too often, manufacturing companies find themselves in dire need of workers, but must wait two to four years for a student to complete a post-secondary program before they can hire him or her. And unfortunately, even after students spends tens of thousands of dollars to get their associate’s or bachelor’s degree, many still lack the specialized skills employers are seeking. Educator-employer partnerships that expose high school students to lucrative, innovative careers and equip them with the skills they need to thrive in them address this issue.
These courses also allow students to consider careers and try out new disciplines in a pathway of classes that complement their core subjects. If students decide they like the career-related work they’re studying, they can make a well-informed decision about the continuing education they need and maybe even start working toward certain certifications before they get their diploma. This will give them a leg up on other candidates who are interested in obtaining an apprenticeship, through which they can earn higher certifications and perhaps a full-time, high-paying position. And even if they decide they don’t like the path they picked, industry-specific classes still produce a significant return on investment as they teach students critical professional skills and help them determine early on which careers aren’t a good fit for them.
Of all the industries out there, manufacturing is poised to see some of the most significant growth in the coming years. To keep up with this growth, we decided to add two new manufacturing classes: Manufacturing Systems and Fundamentals of Manufacturing.
Many students envy the high-powered, high-tech jobs offered by companies like Google, Amazon and Airbnb. They want to be on the cutting edge, developing the next generation of tools and resources that will change how we travel, communicate and work. It’s an excellent ambition, but students need not go all the way to New York City or Silicon Valley to realize it. Opportunities abound right here in Wisconsin, and this fall, students can start working toward their modern manufacturing career.