Tuesday’s “Fabricating Update” e-newsletter featured comments by Ed Youdell, president and CEO of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International®, about the first annual Manufacturing Day. The event, which was co-sponsored and -produced by FMA, was a big success as more than 200 manufacturers nationwide opened their doors to students and the public.
In a Q&A in the Rockford Register Star, Youdell explained the impetus behind Manufacturing Day: “The most important thing we wanted to do is build awareness of manufacturing as a viable career. We feel if we can get kids inside plants that they’ll see it’s clean, it’s safe, it’s high technology.
“Many of the job shops here in Rockford (Illinois) and the U.S. use technology to bend metal, shape metal, cut metal with CNC user interfaces, laser technology. It’s very advanced and the public doesn’t have any sense of that. They tend to think about how it was 75 years ago."
As noted in the interview, in the Rockford area, historically, people could graduate from high school, walk in to a manufacturing company, and be taught a job. When asked what’s different now, Youdell said, “Many of (those jobs) were lower skill, entry-level positions. Those low skill jobs are the ones that are gone and are gone forever. Now everything has shifted to a mid-skill level. That person doesn’t come out of high school prepared to work in a manufacturing environment.
“That’s not to say they can’t be trained, but you see a lot of businesses trying to partner with technical schools and community colleges to attract students who have some natural skill of working with their hands and working with their heads.”
One newsletter reader took issue with some of Youdell’s comments. In response to the newsletter, this reader, an educator of 30 years and the owner of a fabricating shop, wrote:
“My reason for writing to you is the quote in your article of Oct. 9, 2012 from Ed Youdell. The quote is, 'historically, people could graduate from high school, walk in to a manufacturing company, and be taught a job.' When asked what's different now, Youdell said, 'Many of (those jobs) were lower skill, entry-level positions. Those low skill jobs are the ones that are gone and are gone forever.'
“I have an issue with this because I believe that some entry positions are available to high school graduates had they been given the opportunity to be involved in a trades program while in high school. These trade schools, which at one time were offered to high school freshman to begin a truly satisfying and lucrative career at a young age, are now gone. Now, for a young person to enter a trade while in high school, they must commit to a five-year program in order to satisfy the requirements for a college prep program. There are many talented young people where college is not and should not be an option. We are losing some of our talented ‘mechanically inclined’ young people who are dropping out of high school because of the rigors and irrelevant curriculum currently mandated. I believe we should drop the ‘college is for everyone’ mindset and offer a trade to young people who with a ‘hands-on mentality’ can do very well with a ‘walk into a manufacturing company.”
This reader made some good points and will get no argument from me that college isn’t for everyone. And, from my experience, the reader’s assertion that some entry-level jobs that require no more than a high-school diploma still can be found in manufacturing is correct.
I have written in the past about a family member I called “Sam” who decided against college. He took an entry-level position with a flooring manufacturer. I described his working conditions and compensation in the blog post “Unemployment benefits or a manufacturing job.”
An individual who read that post offered some advice for Sam: “I hope Sam sticks it out and is paid what he deserves. My advice to him: ‘Always choose work, but never stop looking.’”
I talked to Sam this week. He’s still on the job and now making an hourly wage that puts his family just above the poverty level. And he’s still looking.
So … yes, some entry-level jobs are available for unskilled workers who have a good work ethic and can be trained. However, they are far less lucrative than those jobs in today’s manufacturing that require higher-tech skill sets—jobs manufacturers are struggling to fill.
Manufacturing Day was a good step in helping attract new workers. As Youdell noted, in Ohio, one company brought in 1,500 students over two days (not the 15 cited in the RRStar Q&A and “Fabricating Update”), and another in Alabama introduced 140 students to welding via a simulator. Next year’s event promises to be even better.
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