June 5th, 2019

Reaching the Next Generation to Help Fill 2.4 Million Manufacturing Jobs

It seems like only yesterday we were worrying about unemployment rates. Today, finding jobs isn’t the issue — it’s filling them, especially in the manufacturing industry.

The numbers are jaw-dropping. According to a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, a lack of skilled workers is threatening U.S. manufacturing:

  • 2.4 million open positions in manufacturing currently lie vacant.
  • 4.6 million positions are expected to be unfilled between 2018 and 2028.

All this despite the fact that the average U.S. manufacturing worker earned $84,832 annually (including benefits) in 2017, compared to $66,847 earned by the worker in other nonfarm industries.  And 92% of manufacturing employees are eligible for health insurance benefits. (Source)

So why do so many jobs sit unfilled?  

The Culprit: Misconceptions Regarding the Manufacturing Industry

According to Kate Fiorianti of PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, one reason might be misconceptions regarding the industry.  

Kate Fiorianti

Kate Fiorianti

“The stigma behind manufacturing is that it’s dark and dirty,” said Fiorianti.  “At least that’s what some parents have in their minds. But it’s not like that. Plants have clean and sanitary conditions. Robotics and clean rooms are now the norm.”

Fiorianti is Senior Manager of Education in the workforce development department of PMMI. It’s her job to help the packaging industry upscale its current workforce by educating future workers about the vertical.

PMMI Logo

PMMI’s goal is to reach out to today’s workers for manufacturing employment opportunities, and also to the next generation and their parents. By making an impact with parents and school-aged children, they’re looking to alter the old perceptions of manufacturing.  

Sponsoring Robotics Team is a Way to Reach New Students

PMMI’s goal has led to the PMMI U Skills Fund. The program provides PMMI members with the flexibility to provide training to employees and participate in the development of educational programs in the region.

It allowed Delta ModTech to sponsor several robotics teams at the FIRST® Robotics Competition in Minnesota this past March.

Team Armada from Stillwater, MN

These robotics competitions involve not only students interested in mechanical or electrical design / programming, but they seek to create a real-world work environment by also integrating students with skills in photography, videography, writing, recruiting and other disciplines.

Team Armada from Stillwater, MN was mentored by Kris Haugen, a Delta ModTech Design Engineer. Kris was a part of this team when he was in high school, proof that the recruiting reach can work. He has been a mentor for the past four years. The team did very well, having their best showing by placing seventh out of 63 teams.

The Mechanical Masterminds from St. Francis, MN are mentored by Todd Kruse, an Electrical Engineer and Laser Specialist at Delta ModTech. Todd became involved when his son was in high school. Todd still mentors, and a student from the robotics team will be working as a summer intern at Delta ModTech.

Leader Todd Kruse

Todd Kruse

How hard is traditional recruiting?

The robotics teams are a great example of new tactics being employed to recruit in manufacturing. Creative approaches like this have become the new norm for companies.

Toby Fuerst, Chief Financial Officer of Delta ModTech, has noticed the increasing difficulty in finding skilled workers. The tightening job market, combined with the company’s continuous growth, has definitely posed a challenge.

Toby Fuerst

Toby Fuerst

“We’ve had new learning curves in recruiting. We’ve become more intentional with our search process,” Toby said. This includes leaning more heavily on recruiters, adding HR staff, utilizing web tools and tapping into Delta ModTech’s referral base.  

Intangibles also help the cause. Delta ModTech has an attractive work environment, is in the process of building a new facility (construction begins in July), and they continue to provide a workplace filled with the most challenging work known to the industry.

Despite the current state of recruiting, “We are seeing plenty of resumes, but the challenge is to find the ideal fit for both culture and skills,” Toby notes.

The future for Recruiting is Based on Reaching Tomorrow’s Workforce

While Delta ModTech might not be feeling the pinch as much as others, it’s wise to expect things to only get more difficult. That’s why the company is open to taking interns as they graduate from high school, as well as new teenage employees.

“We get them familiar with the industry and work environment by starting with basic assembly and maintenance tasks for the company,” Toby said.

It also requires getting younger people more familiar with the industry through programs like PMMI.  Toby recalled a story about how large food companies are not only reaching out to high schools, but even to the middle school ranks.

It’s all about sharing facts about the career field and the good paying jobs within the arena. “We want them to think about a life in this exciting industry of automation,” Toby added.

Only Good Can Come from Reaching Kids at a Younger Age

In contrast to the world of sports, where recruiting middle school children can overload them with surreal celebrity status and outrageous wealth, there is nothing but good that can come out of the robotics program from Delta ModTech and PMMI. Especially in a world that needs their help.

“Automation is not a career that’s going away,” Toby said. There is an “exponential effort” underway to automate in manufacturing — perhaps because of a diminished workforce, perhaps because of the need for greater profits.  It’s likely both factors are at play.

And beyond manufacturing, inspiring students to engage in programs like the one sponsored by PMMI and Delta ModTech can only lead to a smarter society as a whole.  That’s a curriculum every company should support.

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