Help wanted: Skilled workforce for the future of manufacturing
AVAILABLE: Six-figure position with limitless potential and opportunity that requires no education debt and offers employer-paid training in the high-demand STEM field.
Sound too good to be true? Sixty-five percent of those responding to Industry Week's latest survey said their manufacturing companies had trouble filling skilled worker positions last year. And finding qualified candidates is not expected to get easier in the near future.
A less-than-adequate technical training pipeline and the industry's inability to connect with young people as they decide on a career are leaving a worrisome void, the survey responders said.
Hold that thought … Now let's look at where those badly-needed, hard-to-find workforce candidates are.
The latest stats from the Illinois State Board of Education show that 86 percent of Illinois' students graduate from high school. In 2016, only 25 percent of those graduates were deemed "college-ready" in math, science, reading and English. And 49 percent of them were forced to take remedial courses in community college.
Things need to change badly, ISBE spokesperson Jackie Matthews told Illinois News Network's Ben Yount.
"It really is flipping the mindset. It's students graduating not college-ready, not career-ready. That's on us," she said. "That's on us -- as the administrators, the policymakers, the educators, the leaders in the classrooms and schools." "It's on school officials to make high school an engaging, important and meaningful experience that benefits students and helps create a launchpad for the rest of their adult lives," Matthews said.
"It's not just about 'Oh, what was my GPA?' It's about 'Did I learn skills that are going to benefit me the rest of my life?'" she said.
Illinois isn't alone in this devastating mismatch between the next generation and future career opportunities. It's an ongoing national dilemma.
The current schooling culture expects bright, talented teens to head for college -- funded by either parents and/ or scholarships or by loans and grants. More often than not, the "pay later" path places a financial burden of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars on students before they are able to embark on their careers.
Paying off those exorbitant college loans sets back 20-somethings just as they enter the workplace with a diploma in one hand and a "bill due" notice in the other. Parents deal with the guilt of not being able to help more, but they're working hard to pay for younger kids' college bills or trying to get their own mortgage paid off before they retire.
The good news is that more and more high schoolers are realizing a better choice may be available: a career in the fields of "STEM" -- short for science, technology, engineering and math.
Indeed, years ago, similar classes had less-than glamorous nicknames such as "shop class," "machine shop" or "vocational training." Now they're called "STEM" classes, polishing up a whole new image while recognizing the knowledge and skills manufacturing and technology careers demand in math, chemistry, metallology, physics, engineering, computers -- and on and on.
Along with the no-nonsense "STEM" labels come visions of futuristic projects in aerospace, medicine, automotive, robotics and technology.
Chicago area high schools seem to slowly be responding to the call for more STEM class options. In northwest suburban District 211, the number of students in Palatine and Schaumburg studying manufacturing increased by 79 percent from 2014 to 2016. In nearby District 214, the number of manufacturing students in Wheeling, Rolling Meadows and Elk Grove grew by 82 percent in the same years, according to Northwest Educational Council for Student Success stats.
In 2016, more than 9,000 students in the region engaged in course work teaching skills in demand in manufacturing.
Still, the stigma surrounding manufacturing careers remains an obstacle in attracting future tool & die makers, moldmakers and CNC machine operators.
Cook County and Chicago are plagued with 16- to 19- year -olds out of school and out of work with no high school diplomas. The most depressed Chicago wards show 44 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds and 45 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds are now on dangerous streets with little or no future ambitions -- while manufacturers are going without jobs being filled.
The challenge manufacturers face is getting the message to those that would benefit the most from an energetic, collaborative plan.
TMA's Education Foundation is onto the need, and working on solutions to see more and more of the next generation pick STEM careers for brighter futures.
Thus far this year, the Foundation raised and distributed over $166,000 in grants to local high schools to upgrade machines, buy new equipment and simulators.
The TMA Education Foundation is committed to strengthening and preparing the next generation of manufacturers, helping to develop skilled workers and increasing outreach efforts for recruiting those that can fill the increasing void as Baby Boomers retire.
At the same time, TMA is reaching out to high schoolers through its annual precision machining competition and sending another 38 new trained graduates into the workforce.
Finding skilled workers will be an ongoing challenge for manufacturers for years to come, but where there's a will, there's a way.
TMA is doing its part.
To learn more about TMA's Education Foundation, contact Greta Salamando at firstname.lastname@example.org