Thursday, January 20, 2011

What parents should know about manufacturing

I hear it every day and from almost every client I visit – “I can’t find good talent.”

I’ve got three responses to this complaint:

•first, its our fault;
•second, “baby boomers” strike again;
•and finally, there are sources for these skills.
Let’s start with “It’s our fault.”

Most of the young people I speak with have no idea that there are highly technical, good paying, career opportunities in machining and manufacturing.

Almost all of the parents of those kids tell me that they don’t want their kids to go into machining, to which I ask, “Why not?” and I get a I get a variety of answers ranging from, “it’s dirty and hard work” to “there are no jobs in manufacturing, they are all going overseas” to “I don’t know anything about machining. What kind of jobs are there?” to my personal favorite, “I don’t want my kid doing what I had to do – I want him to go to college!”

So you see it is our fault. As parents, we are misinformed, uninformed or have a severe bias and misunderstanding of the potential in the industry.

•When I hear, “It’s dirty and hard work,” that tells me that this person has not been in a factory for over twenty years or more. Machining and manufacturing are no longer the dimly lit, dirt floor, Draconian hell hole of the past. In fact, machining has more computer content then almost any other industry, has more of a lab environment than a factory and the jobs are well-paying, career positions (as opposed to just a job).

•The “…no jobs in manufacturing…” response fires me up! Where as it is true that there has been a contraction in the manufacturing industry for quite some time, it does not automatically equate to a lack of opportunities. Almost every shop leader I meet complains that they cannot find good candidates. The current workforce in machining and manufacturing is AGING. The demographics of the next generation provide a smaller pool of workers. This equates to more openings even though the industry has contracted.

•These are well-paying jobs. The average annual salary and benefits for a machinist in the U.S. is over $61,000 and as I have personally proved, once in manufacturing the potential is tremendous. Quality Control Engineer is number 37 on Money Magazine’s top 100 best jobs; manufacturing engineer is number 38 – just two of the many opportunities that open up from a solid machining and manufacturing background. Manufacturing provides solid, well paying, technical, computer-based career positions. The kind you can raise a family on and do very well with.

•Lastly, but certainly not least, is the “I want my kid to go to college” excuse. That’s a fine dream, but does your kid want to go to college? Do his/her interests and future aspirations depend on a college education? The current statistics are sobering. Over two-thirds of college students don’t finish a four-year degree in four years and if you extend it to six years, the percentage improves only moderately – to 58%! Would it not be better for these students to attain some work experience – i.e. seasoning as an individual – that provides marketable skills and financial security from which can blossom into a wide array of opportunities in the future? “No! My kid’s going to college!” For what, to fail?
So you see, it is our fault and I have a challenge to all parents – learn, educate yourself and your children in the career opportunities that exist in today’s manufacturing.


  1. Richard Stape,

    Karin Lindner has just left a comment on your network update:

    "Hello Richard, I have created a facebook group "How can we make manufacturing sexy?" That's a good way to get the attention of kids in high school. I am also in the process to establish a youth award for kids that bring new and refreshing ideas to the manufacturing industry. SME in the States is partnering with me and now I try to get Canada on board as well. It would be my pleasure to help you communicate your message! The problem is that our society gives kids the impression that you are only smart when you go to university. Nothing can be further from the truth. We have to change this stigma!"

  2. I really like the way you described the resume search for a machinist!!! That is funny!!!! The problem we are finding is that there is just not that many around. We do find a lot of button pushers, but you just mention "VTL" or "HBM" and they do not know what you mean.

    We are going to some of the colleges, but the classes are so small, the biggest was 9 students. Everyone of them had a job offer pending their graduation.

    I must admit that was a great experience the last class we went to, they let the students be creative and make anything they wanted to, and we saw some really wonderful things!

    Posted by Sarah Venne-Bell

  3. Miles Free • I add that it is the PARENTS who are ashamed if their precious little son or daughter doesn't make it into college. They don't know what to say in a conversation if some one mentions "my son is working on his journeyman's card on _____" Yet their college graduate probably makes less than the craftsman and has upwards of $25,000 in college loans to pay off. Read the book Shopcraft As Soulcraft then start handing out copies to those guidance counselors and school board members. PS, How many shop owners are on school boards where they can make a difference?

    James Broussard • I agree that U.S. culture devalues skilled craft careers and that's unfortunate since not all young people need or want to go to college. I work at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas and we are currently training CNC machinists under a skills development grant. We are running a 9 week/40 hours per week training program to create new CNC machinists. This program is a 3-year program with 10 students per class (a new class every 9 weeks). The interesting thing is we graduated our first class last month and 7 of our 10 graduates were hired within a week of graduation via a local job fair that we set up. The other 3 graduates are also getting serious consideration from local employers. That outcome just reinforces the fact that there is huge demand out there for CNC machinists.

  4. Shawn Spinneweber • I think there are many reasons:
    1. Machining and manufacturing in general is still thought of as "getting your hands dirty kind of job" or is a “bad work environment” and since many kids don't do the hands on activities growing up that the baby boomers and gen X did they don't think they want to try something with their hands.
    2. Parents and students have been lead to believe that manufacturing is dead and has no future - "there are no jobs in manufacturing they’re all going overseas" - this is true for the low skilled jobs and some mid level skills but the high tech or high level skills is here in the USA; I think the key is learning new skills and never resting on your laurels. There is not a week a goes past that I do not learn something new even after 19 years.
    3. High School Guidance counselors - go to college is what they preach. They don’t give all the options. Learn a trade early – start working – make and save money working – find a company that will pay for a college degree in something you’ll really use – avoid debt. Like Andy said “the average school counselor has never been in a modern machine shop and think that working in a factory is like it was depicted in "Modern Times"”
    4. Overall lack of knowledge of what machining is really is and understanding the real knowledge that is required to be a great machinist. Mathematical abilities, mechanical abilities, spatial relations, communication abilities, abstract reasoning, etc….
    5. Lack of high school vocational funding and marketing – there are still a few really good programs left but most have died because of high schools pushing college and more funding toward activities that get kids into college like sports programs.
    6. Most engineering colleges focus all resources into book theory and do not give or offer a real hands on degree. Yes, most give one or two courses on machining or manufacturing but they never teach the student how to be machinists – most have someone setup a CNC machine and the student pushes a button. There some colleges out there that do have very good hands on application courses but not enough.
    7. Lack of apprenticeships. Companies want trained machinists but most are not willing to put up the money for an apprenticeship.
    8. Lack of machining instructors and teachers in general makes it difficult to continue the trade, especially ones that have a passion to teach.
    9. The lack of teaching cutting theory principles using manual machines; some of the best machinists I know learned manual machining and applied those principles to CNC machining. Some of the best engineers I know are started as machinists. It not just understanding the theory - it’s the practical hands on application of the theory.

  5. Rich, I agree with many of the points you raise. As someone who grew up with both a practical 'hands on' approach and an academic approach, I've been lucky enough to be able to turn my hand to most tasks it constantly surprises me that people I grew up with can't change their engine oil or put a shelf together! Crazy!