Industrial Evolution: Manufacturing Goes Technical

Smoke stacks are ‘out’ while knowledge of math and science is ‘in’

(page 5 of 5)

Equally important, manufacturers say, the academies offer a pathway to career opportunities for those who lack the ability, inclination or means to pursue a college education.

Maritech Machine in Panama City
Holly Gardner

“I see a large percentage of our kids who don’t graduate, or who graduate but aren’t going to college,” says Ellis, who also serves on the Washington County School Board. “They may have a different set of ideas or different talents or may not know what they want to do. Manufacturing provides opportunities for these kids and good-paying jobs that provide benefits.”

Although not part of the NWFMC, Danfoss engages in similar efforts to develop the needed talent.

“We’re working with TCC and the local community (primary and secondary education) to create beta programs that can drive higher levels of interest in the traditional labor market such as electronic techs, logic programmers, mechanics, CAD techs, HVAC techs and other skilled trades,” Dean says. “For professionals, we’re partnering with FSU to create joint (research and development) collaboration and the development of internships to help grow talent for our entry-level professional positions.”

One of the obstacles manufacturers must overcome to attract younger workers entails dispelling misconceptions about the industry.

“When people think of manufacturing, they think of old manufacturing centers and their dads coming home covered in soot and dirty and nasty, and that’s not manufacturing in today’s world,” Phelan says.

It will also require engendering a public rethink of the viability of trade jobs and the idea that college is the be-all and end-all for everyone.

“We all want our kids to go to college and be doctors, lawyers and engineers,” Johnson says. “But there are ways to make a comfortable living as a plumber, electrician or mechanical technician, and those jobs are there. We have to start investing in that segment of the work force, because everybody can’t be a doctor, lawyer or engineer.”

Education is seen as key to the effort’s success.

“We have to educate the public about manufacturing careers and how well they pay,” Britton says. “It starts with the kids and parents and guidance counselors and teachers. I think everybody is starting to see that.”

One of the ways manufacturers are getting the word out is through Manufacturing Day, celebrated nationally in October. It affords parents and kids an opportunity to tour manufacturing facilities and learn firsthand about manufacturing careers. Others are manufacturing career and job fairs, such as the ones colleges sponsor, and presentations before Rotarians, Kiwanians and other community groups.

Expectations are that as the economy continues improving and manufacturing grows, the demand for talent will increase. A certainty is that manufacturing will continue evolving and technology increasingly playing a larger role, in turn requiring ever-higher skill sets of workers. A 2012 report by the Institute for Defense Analyses, “Emerging Global Trends in Advanced Manufacturing,” concluded that advanced manufacturing would increasingly “rely less on labor-intensive mechanical processes and more on sophisticated information-technology processes” at a likely accelerating level. Or as Johnson more plainly puts it, “In manufacturing, every year we’re charged with reducing costs and doing more with less.” Which typically translates into greater automation and fewer, if higher-skilled, jobs.

“So many people say that machines have taken over the jobs and no jobs are left,” says Anderson, the NWFMC executive director. “Well, for every machine that takes a job, somebody must design, operate and maintain it. So the need for employees hasn’t gone away. It just requires a higher skill set.”