9. October 2013
U.S. manufacturing activity hit a five-month high in August, striking a note so positive that experts began to herald the revival of the American manufacturing industry. The U.S. is quickly becoming one of the lowest-cost countries for manufacturing in the developed world, and as manufacturing costs drop, production continues to rise.
We’re seeing the trend first-hand in our factories. For example, our 200-employee Lebanon, Pa. facility, which produces pharmaceutical packaging materials such as vials and syringes, has future plans to increase production. With product lines expanding into new markets, we’re also recruiting 10 new employees.
These reports of manufacturing’s revival are auspicious given their proximity to Manufacturing Day (MFG Day). MFG Day is celebrated annually throughout the country as a time to dispel the misperceptions about the U.S. manufacturing industry and allow community members to gain a stronger understanding of the manufacturing processes occurring in their backyards. Manufacturers throughout the U.S. and Canada, including SCHOTT’s Lebanon plant, opened their factories to educate community leaders, students, and neighbors alike about the inner workings of manufacturing as well as potential careers.
The manufacturing skills shortage
The career angle is particularly important right now. Because while the American manufacturing industry is growing and new jobs are appearing, many companies struggle to fill open positions. The manufacturing workforce is trending older — in some sectors, less than 5 percent of the workforce is under 25. Companies acknowledge young and motivated workers as the keystone to a thriving U.S. manufacturing sector, but willing young workers are few and far between.
In an age when society places so much emphasis on college education, fewer students tend to pursue trade education through vocational-technical and trade schools. Without students opting into technical education, companies like SCHOTT struggle to hire skilled workers.
Often, students view manufacturing jobs as lower-level work, and this stigma keeps them from pursuing careers that might match their skills and lead to an enjoyable, fulfilling career. The common perception is that manufacturing careers are stagnant, routine, and dull.
But quite the contrary — manufacturers work at the front lines of innovation. Modern manufacturing jobs require a highly specialized set of skills in everything from electrical systems to mechanics. Many jobs are highly technical roles that are a strong fit for logical and mechanically oriented minds. We’re continually innovating and improving the processes that create our products, and our manufacturing teams are at the forefront of these advances.
How to ensure a bright future for manufacturing
So how can we close the growing skills gap and attract younger employees to manufacturing? One tactic SCHOTT has developed is an apprenticeship program, which combines classroom learning with on-the-job training over three years to certify employees as electro-mechanical technicians through the Department of Labor. Throughout this course, students are mentored by existing SCHOTT employees to ensure knowledge transfer between generations. This program is certified by the state of Pennsylvania and is up and running at our Lebanon, Pa. and Duryea, Pa. plants.
Not only is SCHOTT cultivating skilled workers on the job, but the company also reaches out to the community to stir up enthusiasm for manufacturing careers among youths. Hosting MFG Day at our Lebanon plant was one way we’re drawing prospective manufacturing workers away from the misperceptions and toward the opportunities manufacturing careers offer.
On MFG Day, the Lebanon plant opened its doors to student groups from local high schools, family members of SCHOTT employees, and Pennsylvania State Representative, RoseMarie Swanger. SCHOTT employees ran 40-minute tours of the plant and conducted poster presentations on manufacturing topics, such as the electro-mechanic technician apprenticeship program, lean philosophy, safety, vial engineering projects, syringe engineering projects, preventative maintenance, and manufacturing execution systems. It turned out to be an exciting and informative afternoon.
As the American manufacturing industry rises from the brink, more and more manufacturing jobs will appear across the country. For leaders in the manufacturing industry, it’s time to assess the state of our current workforce and start investing in the future of our young employees. Days like MFG Day highlight the future of the manufacturing industry, and showcase the strength of American-made production.