Many headlines today allude to a "skills gap" in manufacturing, referring to a lack of skilled labor needed to fill rapidly expanding employment opportunities within the manufacturing industry. After all, U.S. manufacturing added 327,000 jobs in the last 12-months, pushing the industry to its best annual job gain in more than 20 years!
While manufacturing employment growth is impressive, I prefer to focus on "skills interest" in addressing our efforts to expand the workforce not only at HM Manufacturing, but the industry as a whole. When manufacturing companies collaborate with schools to show their students that manufacturing is not just a viable career path, but a rewarding and lucrative one as well, we all benefit. I believe that as companies invest more of their time and resources into these students, we will not have difficulty finding and keeping skilled labor.
How do you get students interested in manufacturing? One solution is the introduction of STEM curricula in grade school. STEM programs provide an opportunity for students to tinker and gain real interest in the subjects that support our industry. I strongly support the reintroduction of shop classes at the middle school level.
At the high school level, great programs, like the one at McHenry High School, have an integrated education model. Their manufacturing program begins with Metals 1 for freshmen and sophomores, with more advanced courses in welding or manufacturing for juniors and seniors.
Many of the students I talk to find a sense of accomplishment when they physically make something in class. As a member of the manufacturing board for the school, I appreciate the enthusiasm students bring to problem solving. It is very possible that a design or concept made through this program will become a legitimate product.
When I am at a school, mentoring students, I see real interest, especially among young women. These students see there is a career path for them in our industry and they are eager to learn more about manufacturing. All students who complete the McHenry High School manufacturing program, for example, receive NIMS certification, which makes them employable right out of high school.
To fully support these types of high school manufacturing programs, we invited two students to intern with us this past summer. One student was from Lake Zurich High School and the other was from McHenry High School. Both interns began their 4 week internship with minimal knowledge of HM Manufacturing capabilities. By the end of the summer, these same interns were able to clearly articulate the differences between a shaft, spline, pulley and sheave. Even more impressive -- they handled some of our social media posts and educated our LinkedIn and Facebook followers on a variety of our products and processes.
I also serve on the board for the Technology & Manufacturing Association, and I am delighted by the incredible grants the TMA Education Foundation offers to schools throughout the area for purchasing new equipment. These high school programs help bridge the skills and interest gap in our next generation of manufacturing employees. The TMA has already donated more than $1.6 million to date.
All of us in the manufacturing industry need to get involved with our local schools and communities. If your company isn't already engaged with the next generation -- get started. There is a deep need for young adults, and the population as a whole, to see that manufacturing has evolved from the dark, dirty shop floors of previous decades to incredibly automated, bright, resourceful facilities that offer tremendous career opportunities. I suggest offering shop tours -- quarterly, if not monthly. Consider internships and/or apprenticeships. Your local high school, or even middle school, is a great place to start a conversation with teachers about bringing students into your company to learn how their classroom work can be used in "real life" work.
At HM Manufacturing, we have state-of-the-art operations and innovative solutions to help our customers remain competitive. While expanding our services from the automotive industry to now include food and beverage processing, aerospace, medical, marine, and packaging industries, we have an increasing need for manufacturing-interested team members. I will continue to hire young adults straight out of high school.
I know when I hire people with a passion for their job, and manufacturing as a whole, they manage themselves and their time with a motivation that comes from within. Let's bring manufacturing to the next generation of interested and motivated young adults!
• Nicole Wolter is president and CEO of HM Manufacturing Inc. in Wauconda.