Manufacturers across the country are facing a bit of a quandary in the face of poor public perception and with the impending loss of workers who will age out of the labor pool looming on the horizon. Companies struggle with the misconceptions of manufacturing conditions and viability, but have recently partnered with educators and schools across the country to fight those images.

In an effort to help bolster the ranks of manufacturing workers, local companies will join forces Friday, Oct. 2 for Manufacturing Day.

Students throughout Worcester County, and across country, will be able to gain some insight into the industry, as companies hoping to increase interest in manufacturing careers open their doors and provide information and an opportunity to check out what the industry has to offer.

Local educators and employers are hoping to take the day to shine some light on what is typically a field that stays out of public eye.

“We’re here, we’re just hidden,” said Bill DiBenedetto, president of Lampin Corporation, an Uxbridge-based machine parts manufacturer. “There’s a lot of us around.”

DiBenedetto, among others, intends to show the public manufacturing is alive and well in Massachusetts. On Thursday, Oct. 1 DiBenedetto joined a panel of local representatives of the manufacturing industry at the Beechwood Hotel in Worcester to present the case for jobs in the industry to an audience of fellow manufacturers and educators from local middle and high schools, as well as colleges.

According to Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President Tim Murray of the, the state stands to lose roughly 100,000 employees by 2020. The loss comes in a field that currently employs more than 31,000 people in Worcester County alone, according to the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Project (MEP).

The manufacturing industry faces “a very serious retirement problem,” according to Thursday’s panel. As aging workers retire from the field, manufacturers are struggling to bring new workers in to fill their positions.

“The best way to ensure success over the next 20 years is to develop the students,” said Benedetto in his presentation.

With him were two young employees of Lampin Corporation, along with their testimony and enthusiasm for the manufacturing field.

Manufacturers hope to entice young workers to fill their open positions by showing them times have changed, and the field is quickly evolving with the addition of new technology such as 3D printing and precision parts manufacturing. They hope to recruit students from an array of fields, some not often associated with the skills required for manufacturing jobs.

Employers recognize that the skill-set they are looking for is not one schools can afford to teach students, but they are willing to meet educators halfway. Traits they do look for in potential recruits include skills that schools can help with, beginning at a young age – skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, active listening, and reading comprehension. The ability to think on their feet and understand the changing world around them are core abilities that many companies look for when scouting for new employees.

Newbies in the manufacturing industry can expect a lot of help and motivation to succeed from their employers. Companies such as Lampin and Saint Gobain, which has locations in Worcester, are more than willing to equip their employees with the technical skills needed for their jobs.

“It’s very simple to work the machine. It’s very difficult to get people to run the machine,” said Leslie Parady, one of the state’s 35 Workforce Project Managers for MEP. She frequently deals firsthand with the frustration of knowing there are jobs to fill, but no interested, skilled workers to take them. Computers, math and other specific skills can be taught to anyone so long as they’re willing to work and they display the basic critical thinking and decision-making skills that recruiters look for.

Fortunately, the MEP has developed a five-level pyramid training program to get manufacturing candidates started on their career. The levels involve teaching skills from the basics of blueprint reading, math and safety, all the way to the top where trainees can work toward an applicable associate’s degree through local schools like Quinsigamond Community College. Methods of education include tools such as computer simulators to hands-on experience working and interning for local companies, as well as middle- and high-school courses.

Many employers are also willing to pay for their employees’ training, because of the long-term benefits their investments yield. Rapidly-changing technology in the industry calls for training of new employees, as well as retraining and cross-training existing employees to help them advance their careers.

The general air at Thursday’s panel was one of slight desperation, but also of hope for the future of an industry with a lot to give back to communities and their employees. Panelists fielded questions regarding solutions to the potential problem of labor shortage after an hour-long presentation.

Manufacturing, panelists said, is not the dark, sweatshop-laden industry you heard about from your grandfather. According to MEP, the average salary in manufacturing is somewhere near $70,000 dollars a year, with plenty of room for advancement. Work environments are cleaner and better equipped than ever. With focuses on safety and employee training, as well as cross-training, Mass MEP and its partners in manufacturing and education aim to change perceptions, convey the energy and excitement they have for their industry and divert some of the flow of eager job seekers back into their field.


Reposted with permission courtesy of Worcester Magazine; original article appears here