Manufacturing Industry Tries to Break from Dark Past
At a recent meeting with stakeholders to discuss workforce development, Scott Hudson, principal manager of social responsibility and community outreach for the Alcoa Foundation, asked if there was one profession in manufacturing that has faced a skills gap that has been filled.
“It was a collective ‘no,’” Hudson said.
With a region full of small and midsized manufacturers, Hudson said, if anything, the overlap between the skill requirements of the energy industry and the manufacturing industry have made it even more difficult to fill positions.
With 66 percent of Alcoa’s workforce on the shop floor, Hudson, like others in the industry, is trying to increase interest in manufacturing and dispel some of the myths. “For a lot of parents, they still think of manufacturing jobs as working the line in a dark, dirty place, but these are not the same jobs they were decades ago,” he said.
Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, said, as a region, Pittsburgh is still overcoming its steel heritage, and, for a lot of parents, they worry if their children enter manufacturing they will face the mass layoffs that industry saw.
Facing advancing technology, as well as the advancing age of its workforce, manufacturers are looking to collaborate with educators at every level to increase interest in industry-related professions and train a workforce that has the skills they need.
Petra Mitchell, president of Catalyst Connection, said while she estimates manufacturers in the region could be looking to fill up to 1,000 positions, one of the problems in trying to determine an exact number of job openings is that many manufacturers don’t use easily traceable recruiting methods to reach prospective employees. Mitchell said while some manufacturers post open positions online, many tend to recruit within their own community, sometimes only posting signs in front of the facility.
Catalyst sees as the biggest needs today machinists, machine operators and welders, she said.
In the fall semester, California University of Pennsylvania is launching a Bachelor of Science degree in mechatronics engineering technology, the first hands-on, technology-focused, four-year program of its kind in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. It is designed to prepare students to take on some of the high-skill manufacturing roles that have been difficult for employers to fill.
“Talking to local manufacturers, most of them would tell us that they can’t find employees that have the high-skill training they need to fill open positions,” said Christine Kindl, director of communications for the university. “But advanced manufacturing is what has been pulling the Pennsylvania economy on the upswing.” Greg DeFeo, president of Pittsburgh Technical Institute, said his organization also has adapted and added programs based on the needs of the industry.
“We talk to companies in the manufacturing and energy industries all the time, and what I constantly hear is they need individuals with skills in electronics, welding, oil and gas, information technology, and computer-aided drafting,” he said. Working with more than 300 members from a diverse range of industries on the school’s advisory board, DeFeo said meeting with professionals working day-in and day-out in the industry has been a great asset in developing curricula. “Companies want to hire our graduates, so they see this as a long-term investment in their future and are willing to donate equipment and time to help us better meet their needs,” he said.
Dennis Wilke, president of Rosedale Technical Institute, said the Kennedy Township-based school also is in the process of adding a new industrial technician program designed to provide skilled employees for the manufacturing and industrial businesses based on the needs in the region.
“We hear there is a need, so it is our job as educators to respond and make sure we are preparing our students for the job market they are entering,” Wilke said.
And while there is progress being made at the high school and postsecondary levels, Kim Celentano, CEO of Virtual Job Shadow, said with the type of technical skills required for today’s manufacturing jobs, it’s more important than ever to start reaching out to younger students.
“Part of the problem in manufacturing is the way it is marketed,” she said. “Having been in many manufacturing facilities in the last few months, I know there is a very high technical element to these jobs, but somewhere along the way, that gets lost in the communication to the public.”
Virtual Job Shadow is an online video service that provides a day-in-the-life glimpse into more than 140 professions. In about three minutes, students get a sense for what a profession is without leaving the classroom and are provided a career description, potential earnings, future outlook, required education and school search for each profiled occupation.
“This program idea comes directly out of life experience I wish I had in school,” Celentano said. “If you think about how many things you are actually exposed to, it’s very limited. We think that by introducing students to these careers younger and earlier, it helps to shape their educational path in an informed way to lead those career goals.”
VJS has customers in 200 schools and is rapidly growing. In June, Pittsburgh Public Schools announced they will be incorporating VJS when school returns at the end of August.
“We need to get the message across to middle schoolers and high schoolers that these are not the jobs that your grandfather worked standing in a line punching out a part,” she said.
DeFeo said with many of the jobs in manufacturing being more white collar than blue collar these days, students need to be introduced to the new manufacturing.
“If we expose kids to the different options that are available and parents are able to find the best opportunity for their child, that is all anyone really wants,” DeFeo said.