A Misconception of Manufacturing

Today’s manufacturing jobs look vastly different than they did 50 or 75 years ago, but that message does not seem to be getting passed on to today’s young people.  In a recent study conducted by ORC International on behalf of Proto Labs, a digital manufacturer, they found that the majority of Americans (71%) still do not perceive manufacturing jobs as high-tech occupations.  Although many of today’s manufacturing jobs involve software development, or the operation of computer controlled high-tech equipment, that reality is not being shared with the younger generations.  This could be a major issue for the U.S. manufacturing industry in the future as baby boomers continue to retire in large numbers and an anticipated 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in the next decade.  Current predictions show that without a major change in thinking among young people, nearly 2 million of these jobs will go unfilled.

Parents who do their homework will realize that there are going to be many high-paying, promising jobs available in manufacturing in the future and steering kids towards math, engineering and the sciences in school could be a huge asset for them.  The research study found that many of these jobs are paying $100,000 annually or higher with incredible potential for internal growth within larger companies. Unfortunately 1/3 of the people interviewed answered just the opposite, stating that manufacturing jobs are low-paying or entry level only.  This has created a massive chasm between perception and reality that must be overcome.

While the digital manufacturing revolution is taking over the industry, 55% of survey respondents still described dated images of manufacturing workers in dirty shops running old machines as their image for what it looks like to work in today’s manufacturing.  A mere 10% of respondents associated an image of someone working in front of a computer as a job in manufacturing.  The reality is that many of the manufacturing jobs are front-end software development jobs that allow machinery to run more efficiently.  As more machinery is used to automate manufacturing the man power is being transferred more and more to the software development side.

Tech schools, colleges, parents and employers will be key in making sure the future of manufacturing in the U.S. looks bright.  Without a rapid change in our view of manufacturing employment, one of the bedrocks of our economy could be in serious jeopardy.

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