July 18, 2016

Why Grads Should Consider Manufacturing Careers


For most members of the newly graduated class of 2016, the manufacturing sector likely ranks pretty low on their list of possible careers — if it ranks at all. But while the competition might be stiff in many sectors that recent graduates are more likely to target, the manufacturing sector is suffering from an ever-increasing skills gap. Part of the reason why is that manufacturing jobs have a bad reputation. They are dirty. Unskilled. The pay is low. The hours are long.

But the truth is, this isn’t your grandfather’s manufacturing sector.

Over the last few decades, many of the unskilled positions in manufacturing have been automated. This means that skilled, educated workers are often required to operate and maintain the robots and computers that now run the show. College graduates in areas like IT, science, or mathematics can find work in this field without even having to look too hard. In addition, every manufacturer is still a business, so a business degree might also land a solid entry-level career for a graduate.

Recent graduates looking to explore this avenue of employment would do well to get themselves some training to pad their resumes before applying to manufacturing businesses.

“There are many avenues to obtain hands-on training as a job seeker,” says Micah Statler, technical training program manager for Advanced Technology Services, a factory maintenance and IT consultancy. “SkillPointTraining.com is one avenue, where individuals can secure a seat in any of our scheduled training courses. Original equipment manufacturers and distributors, colleges, and technical institutes also provide many training opportunities for those in the job market, but that training is often high-cost and product-specific.”

While a recent graduate obviously would not want to enter a new college or technical school training program (or foot the bill for one while still paying for their first degree), shorter and cheaper online courses through companies like SkillPoint might give them an edge in the interview process and a better idea of what it is they are applying for.

What Manufacturers Can Do

clockOn the other side of the coin, considering the size of the skills gap facing the industry, manufacturers would do well to widen the scope of their skilled-labor searches and provide on-the-job training for college graduates. Getting a college degree in any field typically requires a certain amount of intelligence, dedication, and critical thinking skills, so it’s likely that a new hire with a college degree would be able to succeed in whatever on-the-job training companies deemed necessary to put them to work.

Employees stay in jobs that they can succeed in, as well as jobs that treat them well. So providing them with the skills to do a good job and continuing to reward that effort can go a long way toward combating the skills gap.

“Training is a component of retention, but it is not the silver bullet. We have seen positive statistical results in the correlation between training and retention,” says Statler. “We have also seen very positive impacts against measured employee engagement in association [with] training and development opportunities. We believe that retention is the result of a multifaceted approach that provides an engaging and encouraging atmosphere, which promotes growth and inclusion. Training can serve as an entry point to such a work environment, but the key in getting the most impactful results is to utilize the training as a catalyst to provide greater opportunity – mentoring, coaching, and [opportunities] to utilize skills in challenging higher levels of performance help to complete the package.”

An estimated 1.8 million bachelor’s degrees were awarded to the class of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For manufacturers, the skilled labor shortage could reach 3.5 million jobs in the next ten years, according to the Manufacturing Institute. With that sort of risk coming down the road, ignoring an intelligent, educated labor pool seems like a bad business decision for manufacturing companies. Investing in incentive programs to attract college graduates from liberal arts and other fields, in addition to providing the right training to help them succeed, could go a long way toward solving the shortage of skilled labor.F

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Jason McDowell holds a BS in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. By day, he works as a mild-mannered freelance writer and business journalist. By night, he spends time with his wife and dogs, writes novels and short stories, and tries in vain to catch up on all of those superhero television shows.