On Friday, over 150 manufacturers and manufacturing-related organizations across the country will throw open their factory doors to let students, their parents and educators, as well as local press and the public, see the stars behind the U.S.’s post-recession economic growth. They may not be quite Hollywood-type extravaganzas, but the open houses nationwide are part of Manufacturing Day, when the manufacturing sector will get its glamour and glitz on in a public awareness campaign coordinated by several manufacturing interest and trade groups.
Simply, the U.S. manufacturing sector knows it badly needs an image makeover. Already operating with a much smaller workforce versus just a decade or two ago, it is facing a dearth of incoming qualified workers that is only being exacerbated by the retirement of skilled older employees. In trying to woo high-school students and even middle-school kids to Friday’s events, and showing them clean, computerized environments filled with high-tech equipment, the manufacturing sector wants to present itself as an appealing path to their future livelihoods. As Ed Youdell, the president of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International, said, Manufacturing Day will be manufacturers’ coming-out party.
Multinational cutting tools manufacturer Sandvik Coromant is one of those companies that will participate in the national outreach event, rolling out the red carpet at its tech centers in Schaumburg, Ill., and Cypress, Calif., for public tours. It will also hold an “Innovation in Technology” event in Palentine, Ill., and a tour of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, in Hartford. Visitors to Sandvik Coromant’s open houses will get to see live metalcutting demonstrations and learn about career opportunities in manufacturing that can be just as rewarding as those in other professions.
According to Jamie Price, the U.S. president of Sandvik Coromant, the biggest obstacle to the future of U.S. manufacturing is perception, noting that by opening up their doors, manufacturers will be able to “show people what modern manufacturing really is.” Sandvik Coromant will do just that on Manufacturing Day, with public access to its Productivity Centers in Schaumburg and Cypress, where normally industry clients from automotive to aerospace go for classroom training, technical seminars and hands-on demonstrations in advanced milling, hard part turning and cutting of advanced materials on state-of-the-art machine tools.
At the recent IMTS 2012 manufacturing trade show in Chicago, Sandvik Coromant spokespersons Matt Reynolds and Faina Sandler gave a preview of the company’s Manufacturing Day activities. “We are going to invite students in – even those who are not interested in [manufacturing and technology],” Reynolds said. “We will give an overview of the metalcutting industry. There is a misconception of machining and manufacturing being dirty and dangerous. We will establish a new perception.”
In fact, throughout the month of October, Sandvik Coromant will hold open houses on its own, called Technologic Events. Sandler said the company has held public events before for high schools, technical schools and universities that have engaged a growing number of student and educator attendees. One of the Technologic Events will take place at Sandvik Coromant’s third U.S. Productivity Center, in Fair Lawn, N.J.
Another industry stakeholder that has been actively promoting the manufacturing and industrial trades to future generations in its own right is a Sandvik Coromant partner, W.W. Grainger, the large distributor of industrial supplies. Grainger, which stocks Sandvik Coromant’s complete cutting tools line, says manufacturing is its biggest core business, and since 2006, the company has partnered with the American Association of Community Colleges on the Grainger Tools for Tomorrow scholarship program.
For the 2012-2013 academic year, Tools for Tomorrow will offer 200 AACC-member community colleges around the country $2,000 scholarships for students enrolled in industrial trades programs. Half of the scholarships will be granted to military-veteran students, who, with other winners, will be awarded individualized toolkits as practical mementos. In the six years since the program began, Grainger has awarded more than 500 scholarships and provided more than $1.5 million in financial support of technical education.
Even though the Tools for Tomorrow program is nationwide, it occurs on a granular scale, with direct relationships between community colleges and various Grainger branches. “Active engagement and partnerships at the local level help drive awareness about exciting and promising careers in manufacturing,” Jim Ryan, president and CEO of Grainger, told Machining Journal. He noted that he has seen manufacturers open up their doors to the public even before the announcement of Manufacturing Day.
In a company video filmed in Orlando in February, Ryan remarked on the urgency among manufacturers to plug the labor gap. “I can’t tell you how many people have told me as they’re expanding operations, the issue that’s holding them back is being able to find enough of the right talent to skill up their production lines,” Ryan noted.
This was made evident by ThomasNet.com’s own annual Industry Market Barometer survey of manufacturers (see infographic). Speaking to Machining Journal, Ryan said, “Finding qualified candidates with strong analytical skills and industrial training remains one of manufacturers’ biggest challenges.”
At IMTS, in a conversation with Grainger senior official Daniel Nicholas, he reiterated the need to break the public stigma and present manufacturing as an attractive and compelling career option again. Kids “don’t think about being machine operators, and (Grainger) customers are not seeing an influx of younger people in manufacturing,” Nicholas said. He lightheartedly quipped, “Many manufacturing plants are cleaner than my kitchen!” before getting serious again. “They’re not dark and dirty places anymore. Manufacturing is a great opportunity for youth in the next five to 10 years.”
Not only does Grainger give out toolkits to its Tools for Tomorrow scholarship recipients, it works with the AACC on a toolkit for community colleges around the U.S. to use for promoting awareness of industrial-trade professions and underscoring opportunities for well-paying jobs. Called Trades in Focus, the toolkit contains documents filled with information and talking points to take to students, parents, military veterans, legislators and media, among other public stakeholders. Ryan said that “through the Trades in Focus campaign, we see an opportunity to continue creating an environment that elevates awareness about the need and importance of these jobs to industry’s future.’
And, just announced today, Grainger has designated October “Skilled Trades Awareness Month.”
Grainger and Sandvik Coromant aren’t the only ones attacking these issues, as countless grassroots and locally and regionally based alliances between manufacturing businesses and academic institutions have cropped up in force around the country over the last year to 18 months. The efforts have caught the attention of the federal government, which, as you read this, is undertaking a number of initiatives to aid and remake manufacturing in the United States. On Manufacturing Day on Oct. 5, those that have not contributed will get their chance to pitch in and build a collective voice and visible presence that could revive manufacturing in the American consciousness.
“Now is the time for a renewed energy around championing the value of a well-trained domestic workforce,” Ryan said.