Engaging the Next Generation of Manufacturers

At the recent Window and Door Manufacturers Association’s Spring Meeting and Legislative Conference, held March 19-21 in Washington, D.C., Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, spoke on the continuing challenge of finding and retaining a skilled labor force, and outlined initiatives companies and associations are implementing to address the situation.

In his presentation, “Workforce Development: Helping Employers Close the Skills Gap,” Moutray characterized NAM members as very pleased with the current economic outlook. He attributed at least part of this positive feeling to the recently passed tax reform, as well as the improving global economy. “These are the best numbers out of Europe we’ve seen in seven years, in some cases 20 years,” he said.

The U.S. manufacturing sector mirrors this growth. While manufacturing businesses continue to run more leanly than they did pre-recession, Moutray said that the sector is much more competitive than it has been in the last two decades. 

While he assessed that 2017 manufacturing production has been “choppy,” at least partly due to the volatility of last year’s hurricane season, Moutray characterized manufacturing’s year-over-year growth as strong overall. He reported that 12.61 million workers are currently employed, and an average of 18,000 jobs were added in 2017. “It’s almost like someone flipped a switch,” he said.

While the growth is encouraging, it also exacerbates the sector’s need for a skilled workforce. According to an often cited study conducted by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, 2 million manufacturing jobs are expected to go unfilled between now and 2025. While the study attributes the shortage to the skills gap, Moutray also described the problem of attracting a skilled workforce in terms of a perception gap: “We need to get people to see manufacturing not just as blue-collar work, but as a very good, high-paying pathway to the middle class.”

As part of this campaign, Moutray outlined some of the initiatives that NAM and its member companies have organized or sponsored, including the following programs.

  • Manufacturing Day: Observed in October, this annual celebration of modern manufacturing saw 3,000 facilities hosting events for high-schoolers and parents in 2017, according to Moutray.

  • Heroes Make America: Started by the Manufacturing Institute, the program is a 10-week career skills program for military veterans that are ready to discharge, built on the idea that the military educates its personnel with many skills that can be applied to manufacturing. The first class recently graduated at the facility’s in Fort Hood.

  • STEP Ahead: Also launched by the Manufacturing Institute, the STEP (science, technology, engineering and production) Ahead program celebrates the achievements of women in manufacturing by honoring them at a formal gala.

  • Dream It. Do it: NAM partnered with the Manufacturing Institute to engage students, parents and educators to promote manufacturing careers to the next generation.

While these programs are designed to help address the skills gap, this challenge is certainly not the only one facing the manufacturing labor force. Added to these issues, Moutray highlighted the recent increase in the practice of poaching, as companies struggling to fill necessary positions head hunt skilled labor from other industry companies. He said that the result has been wage pressure increases, as well as price pressure increases.

As Glass Magazine continues to explore those mentioned here and all concepts regarding labor, staffing and training in its Workforce Development series, we encourage our readers to share their thoughts and experiences that we can share with the industry. Leave a comment below or email our editor with your insights.

Norah Dick is the assistant editor of Glass Magazine. Contact her at ndick@glass.org.

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