I love paragraphs. There is no explaining it. In college, I sensibly studied engineering and aimed at making this my career. But it became achingly clear that an engineer’s work would not have enough paragraphs in it. Perhaps distressing my parents, I chucked that career path to see if I could live as a writer.
Some people love parts. They love the intently quiet work of understanding a print or CAD model and proceeding along the steps involved with making that idea into an object that is precise to exacting detail. Again, there is no explaining it.
We ought not lie. Some information being circulated lately to try to urge young people into manufacturing employment is, at best, questionable. A recent article on CNNMoney.com and other sites appeared under a headline touting the “$100,000 Factory Job,” suggesting that machinists could make that much. Perhaps they can in some cases, but such a person would be a senior machinist in an unusual company or unusual application putting in significant overtime.
Another recruiting item online is a viral video (viral in manufacturing circles, at least) created by an Austrian mold producer to illustrate where a shopfloor career might lead. I enjoy the video, and I think you will, too. Yet its portrayal of the toolmaker moving to an upper-level management position hardly describes the normal (or intended) trajectory of a person in the manufacturing trades. Further, when the toolmaker obtains the attractive receptionist’s phone number, we get the sense that there is some embellishment going on.
We don’t need to lie. Quite the contrary: Looking at manufacturing through a lens of optimism, I see us poised to become a tremendous force for societal good.
It is true that as U.S. manufacturing rebounds, both existing facilities and newly opened plants are, along with other employers, struggling to find qualified employees. But manufacturers have an advantage. By definition, manufacturers have facilities and equipment. These resources could serve as training instruments. In fact, this is already happening. Increasingly, manufacturers will create apprenticeships and other avenues for developing their own talent pools. Other employers cannot address their equally pressing need for qualified talent in quite the same way.
Consider what this will mean, as more manufacturers make this commitment. In general, society does a poor job of developing the gifted. To the young who come from modest means, the best our society says is often: Go, take on enormous debt, and pursue a degree that may or may not be right for you. But in manufacturing, we will have a different answer. We will say: If your gifts have to do with making parts, then we have places to go—places where you can earn while learning.
This is what I believe is coming. Manufacturers don’t have to dangle deceptive promises of riches or other rewards. That’s not what inspires people—not the ones who stay. Once enough manufacturers open the doorways, those with the innate love we’re looking for will step through. What we need to do now, wherever we have the opportunity, is show the world what that love looks like.
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