Great companies do great things, with an eye on the future (OPINION)

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 150 views 

I remember what it was like to grow up in a small town and be unaware of the career fields available to me. At the time I, my teachers, nor my parents considered me to be college material. At the time I really didn’t know my options. Today, I am glad to know that there are efforts underway to change this.

One of my clients is a leading manufacturing company with multiple facilities throughout North America whose success can unequivocally be attributed to the strength of its leadership, quality and engagement of its employees, its values-based culture, the quality of its products and its commitment to its customers.

However, like so many manufacturers in this country, they are facing a significant challenge. And they don’t usually get much air time.

With the rapid retirement of the baby boomers and the emphasis on a “college education” as the only (or coolest) post-school option, they and America are experiencing a “skills gap,” i.e., a disparity between the number of technical jobs available versus the number of qualified candidates prepared for them. There are an estimated 600,000 open manufacturing positions in America, a number that is estimated to increase to 2 million by 2025.

The technological advances within manufacturing require more advanced skills than ever, especially in the fields of engineering, robotics, automation and technical maintenance.

Unfortunately, too many young people and their parents believe the “myth” that trade skill jobs are a dead end. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Students with these technical skills are more valuable than ever, allowing them to achieve higher wages and more rapid career growth than many of their peers. A two-year associate’s degree in a manufacturing technology can generate an annual salary of $40,000 to $50,000.

Companies like my client are doing several things to shift this perception:

• Sponsoring Manufacturing Day for seventh- to 12th-grade students to tour their plants and talk to people who have chosen manufacturing as a career field. My client had more than 1,100 students participate last year.  

• Stepping up the training and development of their workforce. These companies are investing heavily in building their own training and career-pathing programs.

• Many are offering tuition reimbursement programs to ensure their employees have every opportunity to develop the skills for the current and future needs of the business.

• Taking advantage of state and federal workforce development grants focusing on specific skills development.

• Offering college scholarships to high school students interested in a career in manufacturing technology. My client is offering 20 $1,000 scholarships this year to qualified students within a commutable distance to that plant.

• Partnering with other area manufacturers, local high schools, community colleges, technical schools and state agencies to bring industry certifications to the companies in those communities.

• Developing initiatives to stimulate interest and support the efforts to offer training that will prepare students for some of these great careers.

• Lobbying politicians to support programs to grow the local talent needed to keep these jobs here in America.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of great career opportunities in manufacturing and skilled trades across the nation that get little attention from our high schools, colleges and universities.

But there are some great American companies committed to doing some great things to turn that around. I am proud to have the privilege of working with one of them. 

Tony Hawk is an executive coach and owner of Resources for Leading, ( an organizational development firm in Bentonville. He can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 479-366-7692.