Aging, and inevitable retirement, of the industry’s skilled workforce, has been an encroaching problem for several years. Technical advances and automation from OEMs have reduced the number of tradesmen needed to accomplish many tasks and the reintroduction of vocational programs in some high schools and community colleges are helping to a certain extent, but the reality remains that shop floors need an influx of qualified, trained young adults.
Currently not enough young people are choosing industry as a career path to meet current and future workforce needs. Part of the problem lies with a lack of information and understanding as to what is involved in modern manufacturing and the opportunities it offers.
About 18 months ago Jeff Adams, owner of Laser Precision in Libertyville, Ill., began investing heavily in finding and educating individuals to ensure that his company can continue providing quality metal fabrication for its customers.
“Our company realized that there was going to be a lot of heavy lifting to do to redefine manufacturing and metal fabrication as a viable career alternative for the generation entering the workforce. Young people and their parents need to know that the industry has evolved to where there is no resemblance to what manufacturing looked like just 20 years ago. Manufacturing has gotten an undeserved, negative reputation for many years,” he said.
“There has been a steady narrative proclaiming that a four-year college degree is required for a young person to amount to anything in this world, and while we wholeheartedly endorse and support education, college is not for everyone and doesn’t guarantee success for myriad reasons.
“One big reason is that when a lot of kids graduate, they are saddled with huge sums of student debt that puts them behind the eight balls when it comes to getting established in society. It’s taken a while but people are slowly starting to recognize that this vast amount of school indebtedness is a concern for society as well as the individuals themselves.”
Building Its Own Skilled Workforce
Laser Precision, with about 160 employees, is one of the small to mid-sized job shops dedicating resources to solve the workforce problem.
“Individual companies are getting more involved in the effort for a couple of reasons. One is that if we don’t have skilled, intelligent, reliable people in place to carry our mission forward, we won’t be able to satisfy our customers. The second is that without those people it becomes very difficult to evolve the manufacturing discipline to support 21st-century manufacturing in general,” Adams said.
Kimberly Wimer, the company’s human resources manager, spearheads the recruitment efforts. She uses several avenues of community outreach, many working with like-minded organizations, while continually seeking new opportunities to advance manufacturing in general and garner candidates for the organization.
“We have several lines in the water, but we need more because individuals in the skilled trades comprise an aging population. Without a proactive and engaged effort, we’re not going to attract the students we need as they come out of high school or the community college,” Wimer said.
“We need to hedge our bet on the numbers, open the search wider than other manufacturers, and create our own workforce. We do that by bringing in people who have no experience and training them from the ground up. Many of our skilled technicians and machine operators have been homegrown within our facility,” she added.