Do Manufacturers Have a Workforce Problem, or an Image Problem?

Manufacturers in Minnesota have a problem. It's not competition from Asia. It's not government regulations. It's a problem that would surprise many people outside the industry. On the tail end of a recession, with many people unemployed, the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development reports that there are approximately 5,000 manufacturing jobs that need to be filled. These aren't projections for the future. These are jobs available right now.

These skilled positions pay well, offer full benefit packages, fringe benefits and room for advancement. These jobs can be found in the metro and anywhere between our Iowa and Canadian borders. They cover all industries from farming machinery shops to the clean rooms of medical device labs. These are great careers; many of which don't require a four year degree, and a surprising percentage that don't even require a two year degree. Why then are these positions unfilled?

Our company works very closely with numerous manufacturers. We have clients who run shops with five employees, some with 50, and some with over 500. No matter what size they are, or how modern and extravagant their facility is, they all struggle with one universal problem. Image.

Now when I say "image", I am not saying that the industry has damaged it's image in any way. They haven't done anything wrong. They haven't slighted themselves with irresponsible behavior or controversial actions. Their mistake is far simpler and far easier to correct. Manufacturing has simply failed to open it's doors and show the world, especially junior high and high school students, how quickly the industry has advanced and changed...for the better!

Ask your average high school student how they would describe a manufacturer, and most of them will picture a dark, dirty, hyper-masculine, labor-intensive, undesirable working environment. They will associate the career path with low wages and long hours of being unappreciated. To them, manufacturing is still the industry of their parents and grandparents. This is not the manufacturing industry of today.

Manufacturers need to own their employment problem at the most fundamental levels. These businesses need to stop stealing employees from each other and attempting to convert existing workforce from other industries. The manufacturing sector needs to infiltrate the education system and the forum of public opinion. Show them their perceptions are wrong. These companies need to showcase their top-notch facilities, awesome equipment, amazing products, aggressive pay plans, competitive benefit packages, and second-to-none company cultures.

I urge all manufactures in Minnesota to bind together in your communities and regions. Meet with local and state educators to bring your industry into the high schools. Meet with these students. Let classes tour your facilities. Let them all hold your end user products (as long as they aren't guided munitions). Put together presentations showing your wage charts versus other attractive industries. Create summer internships. Work together with superintendents, principals, and teachers to implement curriculum. Hold community open houses to show parents that manufacturing is a respectable viable career path for their children, not just a job.

If manufacturers don't work together among themselves, with educators, and community members this problem will not see a solution for decades. It's a rather simple decision; work together and grow, or continue to compete and cannibalize your workforce and embrace stagnation. I love the manufacturing industry, and I sincerely hope more of them start to embrace their problem and see that working together on a local and regional level can turn this problem into an opportunity.