So, why aren’t more students pursuing careers in manufacturing?
That was the question at hand during the opening ceremony for New Jersey Manufacturing Week, hosted at NJIT Sept. 28. Thought leaders and guest speakers from New Jersey’s manufacturing sector convened at the enlightening half-day event to kick off an exciting week of workshops, talks and festivities to draw awareness to the shortage of qualified manufacturing professionals.
“One of the disconnects is education,” said JoAnn Mitchell, senior project leader at Sandvik Coromant Company, during a spirited panel discussion moderated by Ian Trammell, executive director of MechaForce, a statewide program, which aims to prepare 500 New Jerseyans to become apprentices in over 50 manufacturing firms. “Education that people thought we needed in manufacturing wasn’t always available in schools because back in the old times, a lot of it was manual. You received your education by watching somebody do something, which wasn’t a bad thing, but it’s a very slow way to learn.”
Things certainly have changed.
Today’s manufacturing jobs are advanced and thrive in fresh, exciting, technologically-driven atmospheres. Employees are no longer hunched over a machine, grinding out material one at a time. Technologies are high-tech, high-speed, high-touch—and executed by highly skilled professionals, who are doing the thinking while the robots do the work.
“The misconception of modern manufacturing is a huge part of the problem,” said Manufacturing Talk Radio host Lewis Weiss, who, alongside co-host Tim Grady, served as the keynote speaker and provided ideas on how to address the industry’s rebranding challenge. “It’s not your grandfather’s manufacturing company with steel chips and oil slick on the floor of a greasy, grimy, unpleasant environment.”
NJIT, home of the NJ Advanced Manufacturing Talent Network, has been a driving force in resolving the conflict between education and industry. Through its Continuing Professional Education (CPE) division, the university educates students and encourages them to consider vocations in the manufacturing field, where compensation packages and career paths are better than ever.
CPE has won over $6.5 million in public and private grants over the past four years to manage ManufactureNJ, the NJ Technology & Entrepreneurship Talent Network and the upSKILL IT and STEM training program. "The reason for our success is that we listen carefully and thoughtfully to what companies tell us about their talent needs,” said Gale Tenen Spak, associate vice president of Continuing and Distance Education. “Then, together, we design and customize programs, which enable organizations to ‘up skill’ their current and future employees to meet business objectives."
To trumpet the benefits of manufacturing careers and reshape the perception that manufacturing is a dark and dangerous job, Grady and Weiss suggests industry insiders use social media to spread the word.
“What’s missing in manufacturing is that we have a great story to tell and we don’t tell it,” confessed Grady, who also cited enhanced educational institution involvement and internal training programs as potential skills gap fillers.
“We accomplish terrific things and then we don’t show anyone the end product. It might be in a brochure; it might be a couple of images on a website, but that’s about it. We should be putting things out on Facebook and tweeting about all the exciting things we do in manufacturing everyday. The young folks check Facebook before they check the newspaper. They don’t necessarily Google and go to our website. They see what we’re tweeting about. So, if we want to communicate with a younger set, which are the very folks we want to bring in, social media is our pathway to do it.”
Visit northjersey.com to read more about Mechaforce and its expansion throughout New Jersey and collaboration with the ManufactureNJ Talent Network.