The Promise of Manufacturing Jobs
It’s certainly nothing new.
Workforce issues have long been a stern challenge for this region’s manufacturers, and especially its precision machine shops. Companies have long struggled to not only gain the attention of young people and their parents, but also convince them that manufacturing has a solid future in this region and is something they should be part of.
Like we said, that’s nothing new, nor are many forms of response to this problem, everything from bringing students on tours of plants (and their parking lots so young people can see what their solid wages can buy) to improving salaries and benefits, to plant owners going to area schools and making students aware of what they make, how, and why they should consider becoming part of that team.
But this problem is reaching what might be called a critical stage. Indeed, a recent survey of about 40 area precision manufacturers revealed that, at the rate they’re growing — and the rate machinists currently on the floor are retiring — they will need to hire more than 500 over the next few years.
Extrapolate that number over the entire sector, and the need is roughly three times that number. Meanwhile, over that same period, the region’s technical and vocational high schools and Springfield Technical Community College will graduate only about 300 people from their manufacturing programs.
You can do the math.
This is a problem not without real consequences. Area machine shops are very busy at the moment, especially with aerospace, defense, medical devices, and other work, and projections are that things will stay hot for the foreseeable future. Many companies say they have the potential to grow, but what’s holding them back is finding enough talented people.
As the story explains, BusinessWest is now taking an active role in work to find a lasting solution to this problem with a new publication called Cool STUFF Made in Western Mass. That name itself is a nod to the specific target audience for this publication — young people, as in students in high school and even (make that especially) middle school.
Many of them don’t know about the many cool things made in this region — the list includes everything from golf balls to the paper for the Super Bowl program; from parts for attack helicopters and night-vision goggles to components for artificial limbs. And they also don’t know that the jobs making all these things are those proverbial good jobs with good wages and benefits, the kind of wages and benefits that can lead to a comfortable lifestyle, especially in an affordable region like Western Mass.
Cool STUFF is intended to help make them aware. It will include profiles of many area companies, complete with the thoughts of young people now working for them, individuals who were in high school only a few years ago themselves. It will also include many facts, figures, charts, and graphs designed to bring home the point that manufacturing is a solid option and a solid career.
Sponsored by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and MassDevelopment, Cool STUFF will be distributed at area high schools with tech programs, middle schools, workforce-development offices, area employers and other locations, and BusinessWest subscribers.
It is intended to inform, but also to inspire the next generation of manufacturing employees. With their help, a sector that has a long and proud past can also have a secure future.