By Dennis Slater, AEM President

Manufacturing DayInspiring tomorrow’s workforce to consider a career in manufacturing is a tall task, and transforming the perception of our industry should be a top priority for AEM and our members.  

It’s simply not enough to attract prospective employees who have an interest in the skilled trades. The workforce of tomorrow needs to develop – and eventually hone – the skills necessary to design and manufacture the products that build our cities and feed our world. Unfortunately, a lack of qualified talent threatens to hamper what should be a bright and prosperous future for manufacturing as the backbone of our country.

Closing the skills gap is one of the greatest challenges we face today, and addressing it is not easily accomplished. However, with October being Manufacturing Month and Oct. 4 being Manufacturing Day, we as an industry are reminded of the task at hand: Transform the public perception of manufacturing, and inspire the workforce of tomorrow to assist in our industry’s efforts to positively impact society.

Perception Versus Reality

More than 12 million Americans go to work every day at a manufacturing facility of some kind, and over 1.3 million men and women are currently employed by equipment manufacturers. And it’s no surprise why, as a career in manufacturing offers prospective employees more than a well-paying and secure job. It provides a uniquely valuable opportunity to engage in interesting tasks and projects, leverage the latest trends and technology to solve important problems and – perhaps most importantly – design and build products capable of making a real difference in our world.

Unfortunately, a job in manufacturing is too often seen as a dangerous, dirty and repetitive one. Not a day goes without a reference to “the Rust Belt” when describing manufacturing. That’s the perception right now. In reality, however, manufacturing couldn’t be more different. Industrial facilities have evolved into clean, bright and modern environments where innovative products are being designed and built using cutting-edge technology. Many of these products then go on and are used in a variety of applications, both across the country and around the globe.

AEM’s Commitment to Workforce Development

The manufacturing landscape is rapidly changing with time. And in order to keep our industry vibrant, it’s critical to educate the American public about what’s at stake and inspire the next generation of employees to want to make a difference, too.

AEM is committed to bringing our industry together to develop and share best practices and tools to help recruit the workforce of tomorrow. The association has hired a dedicated resource in new Director of Workforce Development Julie Davis, and our Workforce Development Task Force continues to guide AEM's efforts in this area. Workforce development is also a key priority of our association’s 2020-2022 Strategic Plan, and AEM will continue to assist our members as they help close the existing skills gap in our industry.

Whether members are engaged in workforce development initiatives already, or don’t even know where to start, AEM is thinking of how we can help. That is why AEM developed our Workforce Development Toolkit. In January, the revised web version will offer members links to ideas, best practices, tools, and templates for filling immediate workforce challenges and building a future pipeline. This one-stop resource will be positioned to continue to grow and evolve as AEM continues to identify what is working for our members.

In addition, members will be able to use the toolkit to connect with established AEM partner organizations that are already engaged in their local area and who are training their next workforce. These will include both non-profits like SkillsUSA and FFA and educational partners. Influencing and advocating for industry-focused education connections, including trades career coaching at schools, supporting the development of relevant curriculum, and advancing teacher education, will continue to be ongoing workforce priorities. Sharing innovative solutions for members in rural communities, where working collaboratively is key, will be included in our agenda for workforce success. Finally, we understand that partnering with others in the industry to influence industry perception is essential.

Public Policy Efforts

Having the right public policies in place will also be critical for our industry to continue to grow to meet the needs of tomorrow’s economic opportunities. That’s why AEM is also activating our national grassroots campaign, I Make America, to bring our elected officials out to our member companies’ factories to hear first-hand from their hard-working employees. We’re also organizing another leg of our Pancakes & Policy tour with several more member companies, so as to ensure our industry’s men and women are up-to-date on the latest public policies impacting us.

Inspiring the workforce of tomorrow is a long-term play, one which requires consistent engagement and follow-through over time. However, in doing so, tangible results and significant progress can be achieved.

Building a Bright Future Together

So as October gets under way – and we as an industry commemorate Manufacturing Month and Manufacturing Day – it’s important for our members to recognize AEM is here to help ensure they can obtain, train and retain the workforce of tomorrow.

However, success cannot truly be attained until there is an unwavering commitment on the part of everyone in manufacturing to close the existing skills gap, transform the public’s perception of our industry and – above all else – establish an environment where people can obtain the skills they need to do the job, both now and in the future.

We know our work won’t end come November. In fact, it’s just beginning. And both Manufacturing Month and Manufacturing Day should serve as a catalysts for us to come together as an industry, raise awareness around the challenges and opportunities that stand before us today, and reaffirm our commitment to build a stronger U.S. manufacturing sector tomorrow.

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