Closing the Gap

The Role of Education in Promoting Manufacturing
Written by Mark Golombek

A lack of skills training has been an issue for decades but is fast approaching a crisis worldwide. High schools have been reducing or eliminating shop classes for years; experienced workers of the baby boomer generation are retiring, and guidance councillors have long discouraged students from entering the manufacturing sector in favour of white-collar careers.
The combination has left many industries with an urgent need for trained young workers. Fortunately, public and high schools, colleges, universities, and entire municipalities are working with businesses to inspire students to enter the industry and fill manufacturing roles.

Across North America, events like Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) are helping to address the demands of industry. MFG Day was initiated in 2012 by the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International, and sees thousands of students taking tours of manufacturing plants across the United States and Canada. The event gives manufacturers the opportunity to and reveal what is involved in manufacturing and addressing misconceptions.

Governments, manufacturers, and schools are recognizing and addressing the pressing need for trained workers and their importance to the overall economy, particularly in the manufacturing sector. This March saw the release of a whitepaper highlighting the need for closer ties between businesses and schools to address the shortage of young workers.

The paper from Infosys, entitled Workforce Development in the Age of Digital, outlines the “fundamental workforce development misalignment between academic institutions and businesses,” and notes that the private sector must provide greater training opportunities to lower the barriers which currently prevent workers from nurturing the skills they need to participate in the digital economy.”

“While the private sector cannot overcome the skills gap without partnership with academic institutions and government, we can and must lead the way,” stated Infosys President Ravi Kumar in a media release. He states that people should be hired for their ability to learn new skills, and by “providing them a continuum of lifelong learning, we can nurture workers on the cutting edge of all that’s needed for the future of work.”

Of the hundreds of people surveyed for the report, an overwhelming majority felt that the time and costs needed to acquire skills were becoming obstacles to careers and that corporations need to play a larger role in developing unconventional job candidates.

Around the world, the push for more students to enter the manufacturing sector continues to gain ground. In The Philippines, 370 spaces for skills training were recently announced for young people. “Education must adequately prepare people for the twenty-first-century workplace. Workforce development challenges, while global in nature, also have local nuances that require local solutions, and industry-academe-government collaboration is a key success factor in working global models of workforce development programs,” said USAID Director Brian Levey to the Philippine News Agency, a government newswire service. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of the organizations behind skills training in Manila and Cebu.

YouthWorks Philippines chief of party Karol Mark Yee agreed. “Improving the state of our education is a task that is no longer exclusive to government and academic institutions, and workforce development is not the sole responsibility of the business sector.”

The government of Hong Kong began the Business-School Partnership Programme (BSPP) to help students recognize the needs of future employers and be able to adjust to changes. And in North America, many well-known corporations – like automotive giant Toyota – are nurturing partnerships with schools and government to attract young people to manufacturing and present modern industry as safe, clean, and with plenty of opportunities for growth and career advancement.

Since the year 2000, the number of Americans retiring has doubled, with an estimated 10,000 leaving the workforce every day. While not all these workers were employed in manufacturing roles, the figure is an indicator of the necessity for newer employees to fill their roles. Many sectors including healthcare, construction, welding, and assembly are feeling the loss of skilled workers. The time for industries and schools to work together to train and recruit staff is now.

One way to bring in new manufacturing recruits is to make students aware of the many potential employment opportunities while they are still young, even before they enter high school. Across the U.S. and Canada, many manufacturing companies are willing to pay for students to learn hands-on skilled trades. In instances where school shop classes may be limited or unavailable, it is still important to promote manufacturing careers as a relevant option in the future.

For parents, one way to keep teens aged twelve to sixteen busy in the summer and open their minds to the future of manufacturing is through Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs (NBT), a foundation of the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International (FMA). Students across America participate in over one hundred summer camps at technical high schools and community colleges. In a supervised, hands-on setting, students design and make a product they can then take home.

Youngsters learn of the many potential careers in manufacturing and take tours of manufacturing facilities while at camp. Camps start in late May and run until August, from California to Maine.

There is also much to be learned in school or at home. Manufacturers do not need to be Fortune 500 corporations to take part, as some make modest monetary or equipment donations to local schools, and these make a big difference to aspiring youngsters. Sponsoring awards for students who create successful products and recognizing them for their achievements also means a great deal, and providing internships at area manufacturing plants inspires young minds to think about the future and their career path. While at home, parents can spark interest in their children with electronic or science kits and education-based games.

From partnering with schools to attracting students through hands-on learning, camps, workshops, apprenticeships, facility tours, events like Manufacturing Day, and more, much can be done to encourage young minds and promote the many benefits and opportunities that come from choosing a career in manufacturing.



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