October 04. 2012 2:00AM

Manufacturing careers deserve a fresh look

By S. Mark Tyler

Manufacturing has been transformed in the past 25 years. The perception of manufacturing, unfortunately, has not kept pace with the advances in processes, equipment and training.

The workplaces are clean, safe, and are staffed by innovative, highly skilled individuals completing work that is more challenging than ever.

At OEM, each team member uses high-tech equipment every day. Increasingly, they participate in building our customer relationships. Our company has added 300 positions in the last three years. Yes, we’re hiring.

The pipeline of skilled employees is incredibly important to manufacturers, which makes Wisconsin’s technical colleges vital partners. About 80 percent of our team members have received a technical college education. A high school education alone is no longer enough to ensure success in the new manufacturing environment.

At OEM, the skill and knowledge of our team members, the talent they bring to the table, is our competitive advantage. These higher skills of course mean higher pay, and we offer among the highest wages in the area.

This business model works, and our success proves it. Everyone benefits from a skilled workforce, and manufacturing is no exception. Perhaps the greatest evidence of this is the fact that every dollar spent in manufacturing injects an additional $1.35 into the economy.

Moving forward, the firms, regions and states with the most highly skilled workforce will be best positioned for economic prosperity.

As we recognize October as Manufacturing Month in Wisconsin, I urge broader consideration of careers in manufacturing. An existing skills gap will only worsen as retirements begin to significantly affect manufacturers across the state.

Request a tour of one of your local manufacturing facilities, or contact your local technical college to preview the programs and skills employers seek. Visit the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Foundation or Wisconsin Technical College System web sites to find out more.

Solving the workforce paradox by developing a pipeline of skilled manufacturing workers for the future will benefit all of us.

S. Mark Tyler is founder and president of OEM Fabricators Inc., an award-winning manufacturer in western Wisconsin that celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011. He also is the president of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board.