The Valve Manufacturers Association is focusing a major effort on developing a solution to a problem that plagues this industry as well as most of the industrial world: how to find and attract talented new workers. While VMA can help in forming a solution, the association can’t do it alone—industrial companies themselves need to rethink recruiting methods and ways to improve the image of manufacturing and heavy industry.
There is no debate about the need for this: Over the next decade, the skills gap is expected to widen to such an extent that 2 million of the almost 3.5 million manufacturing jobs that could be available may go unfilled. Part of the reason is that 2.7 million baby boomers will be retiring just as 700,000 jobs are expected to come from economic expansion.
However, another part of the problem is simply that manufacturing is not considered a glamorous industry. This image problem translates into a lack of interest from young candidates. Nicholas Wyman, Forbes contributor and CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation has said that only one in three families will encourage their children to pursue manufacturing careers.
A Professional and Rewarding Career
“Many Americans cling to the outdated notion of manufacturing as low-skilled, menial work,” Wyman notes. He points to a poll by the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association that found 61% of teenagers have no interest in manufacturing because they prefer to pursue what they consider a “professional” career.
“They don’t think manufacturing jobs are intellectually rewarding, and they don’t see opportunities for career development or advancement in the factory,” Wyman says.
What needs to be pointed out to many parents and students is that skilled workers on average earn upwards of $80,000 a year working in manufacturing because their skills are in such high demand.
To recruit new talent into the industry, employers will need to conduct a grassroots campaign of reaching out to young people both physically and digitally. Companies must ultimately convince them that a career in manufacturing is not only well-paying, but exciting, cutting-edge and full of opportunities.
Educating the public and today’s youth is no quick or simple task, but it is one that can make a huge difference to the industry and can be a collaborative effort among all VMA members. The association is encouraging employers to partner with local high schools, technical schools, community colleges and universities. They also should invite young people into factories and offices, and they should learn how to show that the typical four-year degree is not the only option for a viable long-term career. They should push special math, science and engineering programs in schools as well as skilled trades programs at higher levels. They also need to show students why manufacturing is so important to modern society.
Making a Difference, One by One
A number of VMA members already are working toward this end. For example, Balluff, which is headquartered in Florence, KY, recently hosted its first-ever Manufacturing Day event. Activities included hands-on sensor learning labs, tours of the facility, and product and technology demonstrations. Students also experienced automation in action first hand in the new Balluff Demo Van. Balluff’s strategic marketing manager, Will Healy III noted that, “We need skilled and excited people for automation. This demands that we encourage and invest in manufacturing events in our community and STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] programs at schools to help develop the next generation.”
The manufacturing skills gap doesn’t end at recruiting and hiring either—companies will need to keep training and professional development at the forefront of efforts. They will need to find ways to keep workers up to date on the latest technology, and they will need to learn best practices for building strong workforces.
VMA is very much a part of that big picture thinking. In early 2015, the Valve Careers initiative was launched—a program that aims to inform and educate the next generation about the lucrative and challenging field that is industrial valve manufacturing. The program strives to enlighten young people and show them how valve manufacturing is exciting, rewarding and offers many different career paths and opportunities for growth. To keep up with Valve Careers, visit the program’s website at www.valvecareers.com, and connect with the Valve Careers social media onLinkedIn,Twitter andFacebook.