As a new school year quickly approaches, it's time for both students and educators to evaluate where the jobs are and where they will be in the years to come.
And it's the job of us manufacturers to show them.
By 2018, the American manufacturing workforce is projected to decline by 9 percent, an estimated 1.2 million fewer workers, according to the United States Department of Labor. That leaves a lot of holes to fill.
American manufacturers can make up some of this gap by increasing efficiency, extending the trend of productivity gains we've been achieving over the last decade. As president and CEO of Dickten Masch Plastics, a contract molder based in Nashotah, Wisconsin, I've seen first-hand how technological advancements continue to drive efficiency and output across the nation.
However, with our shrinking manufacturing workforce, the question remains: who will carry on this recent success, and that of the industry as a whole, into the future? To prepare, leaders in manufacturing must put significant effort toward the technical education of the next generation in association with regional schools.
Even now, with unemployment at 9.5 percent, manufacturers are having a difficult time finding and retaining qualified people. That's why we're taking action through involvement in organizations such as the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce Manufacturers Alliance, which I currently chair.
This organization and those like it, such as the Milwaukee 7, recognize the importance of recruiting and training new talent. Through a unified effort and coordination of resources, we're forming partnerships with many schools in Southeastern Wisconsin from Milwaukee to Madison – and accessing an enormous pool of talent in the process.
One of the Alliance's closest partners is Waukesha County Technical College. We're working with them to help shape the curriculum toward real-world industry advancements, so that educators can better identify the skill sets that are important to employers and ensure they're supporting them throughout their programs.
For example, as manufacturers struggle to meet increasing demands with a decreasing workforce, automation education is ever more crucial. The workforce of the future must be fluent in programming workspace automation to maintain production levels when even fewer workers are available.
Members of the Manufacturers Alliance are also working to change public perception about manufacturing careers by getting school administrators and guidance counselors into our facilities. We need to show them that factories aren't the gloomy, mundane places they imagine, but instead are bright, automated hubs of innovation and technology.
If more manufacturers band together like this to support and promote technical education, we can change the image of manufacturing careers and, while doing so, continue to emphasize the importance of the science and math skills pertinent to the industry.
I encourage all manufacturers to get involved in your schools and dedicate resources toward education. You, your company, the industry and the future of the country will be better off for it.
Steve Dyer is the president and CEO of Dickten Masch Plastics