Hope springs eternal as another Manufacturing Day rolls around

Manufacturing Day logoFriday, Oct. 4, brings another Manufacturing Day celebration. Manufacturing Day has become a day not just to honor an industry and promote manufacturing’s benefits to the economy, but to attract young people into careers that provide stability and good pay. At least that’s what we hope.

It appears that people in the United States are a bit skittish about pursuing manufacturing careers. They’re not sure that manufacturing really is a stable, long-term opportunity. According to a recent survey by the Brookings Institution, 58% of those surveyed nationwide see manufacturing as vital to the U.S. economy, but only 17% are very confident in its future.

That could be part of the reason why the plastics industry is having a difficult time recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce.

Manufacturing remains a critical part of the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. census, and noted in the Brookings survey summary, around 11.1 million workers are employed in the sector, and it generates about $5.4 trillion in economic activity annually. Yet it faces significant headwinds. “The June IHS Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index fell to its worst reading since 2009, and there have been recent declines in the Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers Index. There is also concern due to the 25% tariffs President Donald Trump has imposed on Chinese goods and his threats to increase tariffs on other nations,” said the summary.

Researchers at the Brookings Institution conducted an online national poll of 2,001 adult internet users between June 16 and 18, 2019. Responses were weighted by gender, age and region to match the demographics of the national internet population, as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

Reflecting the important role manufacturing plays in the U.S. economy, the survey asked how people feel about the sector. Fifty-eight percent believe manufacturing is very important to the American economy, 14% think it is somewhat important, 6% feel it is not very important and 22% are unsure.

There were significant differences by age, with 71% of people over the age of 55 saying they believe manufacturing is very important, whereas only 45% of those aged 18 to 34 feel that way.

When it came to gender, there wasn’t much difference: 61% of men and 56% of women consider manufacturing to be very important. Geographically, it’s the middle of the country that feels strongest about manufacturing, with 61% of respondents from the South and Midwest saying manufacturing is “very important.” Fifty-three percent of folks in the Northeast said manufacturing is very important, as did 55% of respondents in the West.

When asked overall how positive or negative they feel toward manufacturing, 58% say they are positive, 10% are negative and 34% are unsure. The poll also inquired about feelings regarding the future. Only 17% said they are very confident about the future of manufacturing while 48% are somewhat confident, 14% are not confident at all and 21% are unsure.

There were some differences by background in answering that question. People in the Midwest (19%) are most likely to be very confident about the future of manufacturing, compared to 14% in the Northeast. Women (14%) are less likely to say they are very confident about manufacturing, compared to 21% of men. Forty-seven percent would encourage young people to get a job in the manufacturing sector, 20% would not and 33% are unsure.

When asked about the biggest barrier to the manufacturing sector, 23% cite government regulations, 21% say poorly trained workers, 14% name high taxes, 8% claim energy costs and 34% are unsure.

More than a third (37%) of the respondents say news coverage of manufacturing has been negative, 10% felt it has been positive and 54% are unsure. This week’s UAW strike against GM can’t paint a pretty picture for people looking at a career. The news media say the strike is mostly over job security and wages. Even with 55 facilities in 19 states, GM has made moves to Mexico and closed U.S. plants. The average wage for an assembly line worker is about $45,000, including profit sharing.

Looking at stock share pricing is an eye opener when you compare companies that actually make things, like GM ($37.21/share on Sept. 16) and General Electric ($9.38/share on Sept. 16) compared to $1,807 for a share of Amazon, which only sells things others make. Even Twitter beat out GM and GE, at $42.76 per share on the day of this writing.

It’s no wonder people don’t have confidence in manufacturing as a long-term career.

I noticed in the Brookings survey that there were a lot of “unsure” responses to the questions—it’s that group of people who need to be educated about manufacturing to win them over, and that’s what Manufacturing Day is geared to do—educate parents and young people about careers in manufacturing. Show them the modern factory floor with automation (no, it’s not a job killer—automation is a job creator), computers everywhere and very fulfilling jobs to perform.

Many plastics processors, mold makers and machinery manufacturers will open their doors on Oct. 4 to showcase manufacturing and the career opportunities available. One of those is Wittmann Battenfeld, which will hold an open house at its campus in Torrington, CT. The company is expecting as many as 150 students from several local middle and high schools to attend. Kevin Witkos, Connecticut State Senator, is also scheduled to appear. 

The Society of Plastics Engineers’ PlastiVan will be at the event to educate kids on chemistry, manufacturing, sustainability and plastics applications through fun, hands-on science experiments.

“We look forward to hosting area students to show them not only what we do here at Wittmann Battenfeld, but to educate them on the importance of plastics and the potential employment opportunities that are available to them as they enter the workforce,” said David Preusse, President of Wittmann Battenfeld Inc.   

As an industry under assault, we need to present the positive face of plastics and the great careers the industry offers, along with the tremendous benefits plastics have given to society over the past 100 years. Let’s hope that people take advantage of this special day to learn more about plastics and manufacturing and what it can contribute to the economy and to an individuals’ livelihoods.

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