Help wanted in manufacturing

Think Again: Why are 310,000 manufacturing technology jobs unfilled? If science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) positions are too difficult for the U.S. workforce, others will take those high-paying careers in manufacturing, and the U.S. will decline.

By Mark T. Hoske October 1, 2012

There are 310,000 unfilled manufacturing technology jobs in the U.S., yet we hear stories about people who spend years unemployed and about students who amass huge debt over four or more years then cannot find jobs in their areas of expertise. If only they had spent two years studying manufacturing technology, they’d have graduated with starting pay averaging $75,000 (ranging $45,000 to $100,000), according to Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) representatives, speaking at IMTS 2012.

With huge numbers of highly skilled engineers likely to retire in the next few years and too few students and others interested in manufacturing technologies despite available training programs, the skills gap of properly trained workers seems likely to grow.

“By 2015, that number is projected to reach 3 million openings,” cited SME.

What to do? SME offered six suggestions in a national action plan to help us think again about this challenge. The SME “Workforce Imperative: A Manufacturing Education Strategy” calls for manufacturers, educators, professional organizations, and government to coordinate and standardize efforts aimed at reversing the skills gap crisis and preparing a skilled workforce for the high-tech manufacturing jobs of today and tomorrow. The report calls on all stakeholders, including educators and industry, to work together to close this gap through:

1. Attracting more students into manufacturing

2. Articulating a standard core of manufacturing knowledge

3. Improving the consistency and quality of manufacturing education

4. Integrating manufacturing topics into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education

5. Developing faculty that deliver a world-class manufacturing education

6. Strategically deploying resources to accomplish these goals.

The strategy has a long list of endorsements.

Manufacturing must work “hand-in-hand with education to properly train and educate both our current and future workforce,” said SME 2012 President LaRoux K. Gillespie, Dr. Eng., FSME, CMfgE, PE, and retired quality manager of Honeywell’s Federal Manufacturing & Technologies Division.

“We must attract young people to the rewarding opportunities to improve the world around them that exist in manufacturing and then provide them with the educational foundation necessary to succeed,” Gillespie said.

And we know why manufacturing is so important to the U.S.

The U.S. manufactures more than any country in the world. Manufacturing has had 83 consecutive months of growth. Manufacturing accounts for 15% of U.S. gross domestic product and the most of any category of exports at 60%, well behind services at 30%, agriculture 6%, and other 4%, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Of $195 billion invested in R&D a year, 67% is related to manufacturing.

The average U.S. manufacturing wage is $77,000. Over two years, manufacturing has added 500,000 new jobs (200,000 this year) and has grown faster than the rest of the economy.

These manufacturing stats were cited by Douglas K. Woods, president, The Association for Manufacturing Technology, and others, at the IANA Global Manufacturing Summit, at IMTS 2012.

Is it ironic that the SME press kit handout on the “Workforce Imperative” was on a USB memory stick from China?

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, 

See the skills gap discussion on the Control Engineering LinkedIn group at

Skills gap success stories: see below.

Strategy endorsements for the SME “Workforce Imperative: A Manufacturing Education Strategy” came from ACT, the Automation Federation, the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE), FIRST, the National Center for Manufacturing Education (NCME), Project Lead the Way (PLTW), SkillsUSA, and the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC).

For what it’s worth, it seems like good advice to me, too. Take a look and see how you or your organization can help. It’s available on the SME “Workforce Imperative” link above. 

Success stories in education, according to SME, include: 

Austin Polytechnical

Academy Austin Polytechnical Academy, the product of private, public and labor organizations known as the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council, is uniquely positioned to change the future of its community. Located in an area of the city plagued by high unemployment, Austin Poly is providing students with college preparatory, liberal arts and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum choices.

Students at Austin Poly are provided opportunities to qualify for a range of manufacturing industry certifications while in school which aid in generating employment opportunities. Austin Poly also maintains partnerships with local manufacturers, which allows students to apply theory to practice and gain valuable experience using state-of-the-art precision manufacturing equipment. The educational model Austin Poly provides is an ideal example of how to ease America’s skilled labor shortage. 

Richard J. Daley College

Richard J. Daley College is one of seven city colleges located in Chicago. It offers a Career and Technical Education program and a Manufacturing Technology curriculum. Students are prepared for employment as highly skilled technicians in computer-integrated manufacturing, robotics and factory automation.

Daley College combines traditional learning with hands-on training. Students learn to set up and repair high-tech machines that make complex medical instruments, aircraft, locomotives, wind turbines, and “smart” electrical grids. All students in the manufacturing program at Daley College have the chance to earn industry certifications — credentials that give students a valuable edge in the job market. 

University of St. Thomas

Located in St. Paul, Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas’ School of Engineering is a leader in applied engineering/manufacturing applications curricula. Guided by its founder, Dr. Ronald Bennett, the university provides undergraduate and graduate degrees and certification programs in Manufacturing Engineering, Manufacturing Operations and other manufacturing related disciplines. Dr. Bennett is widely recognized as a published leader on innovation, engineering ethics, reshaping graduate engineering education and industry/academic partnerships. He is one of the principal contributors to SME’s Workforce Imperative: A Manufacturing Education Strategy.

The school’s Manufacturing Engineering program offers practicing engineers an opportunity to prepare for manufacturing systems leadership positions through advanced study of technical and management subjects. Students gain cutting-edge knowledge in manufacturing systems engineering with broad options to integrate technical skills with industry strategy.

During the summertime, the University of St. Thomas is home to a free Science, Technology, Engineering and Math residence camp to girls from diverse backgrounds. 

Wheeling High School

Wheeling High School (located approximately 20 miles northwest of Chicago) is a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School and one of only six schools selected from a nationwide search to participate in the Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education (PRIME) program, sponsored by the SME Education Foundation.

Wheeling High was chosen to be a PRIME school based on the following criteria: exemplary manufacturing curriculum, skilled and dedicated instructors, engaged and active students, and connectivity to the local manufacturing base. The school is led by its principal Dr. Lazaro Lopez. He is nationally recognized as a leading proponent of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum.

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.