U.S. legislators highlighted the importance of training in manufacturing and the state of the industry during an event hosted at a post-secondary school in Springdale.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark, were among those who attended the Manufacturing Day 2016 event at Northwest Technical Institute on Thursday (Oct. 6).
“This is where it all begins,” Boozman said.
The event puts a spotlight on how important the manufacturing sector is to Northwest Arkansas, Womack said. Manufacturing jobs offer people the ability to support their families, he said. The better the quality of life is in Northwest Arkansas, the more people who will live here.
While earnings for manufacturing workers have been increasing, the number of people who work in manufacturing has been decreasing in Arkansas and across the United States. In Arkansas, the number of workers fell about 1% to 152,900 since August 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state’s peak manufacturing employment was 247,300 in February 1995 – which means the state has lost 38.1% of jobs from the sector in more than 21 years.
Meanwhile, average hourly earnings increased 2% to $26.03 since August 2015.
Boozman said changes in technology contributed to the decline in the number of manufacturing workers. And jobs in robotics requires a higher level of skills to operate.
Womack said job creators are facing pressures, and they are obligated to provide “shareholder value” and look to “improve bottom lines.” Sadly, some of the decline can be attributed to offshoring jobs, he said.
One solution would be to ease regulatory burdens. Another would be to “think a little more outside the box on career and technical education,” Womack said. These jobs aren’t ones you can fill with a warm body. Job training and curriculum is tailored to fit the needs of the job, and NTI “does exactly that.”
Womack said “we have almost duped” a generation into thinking that college is the only path to success. Schools such as NTI offer students a path to success. When asked about the state of manufacturing in Northwest Arkansas, Womack said “it’s pretty good” and cited a low unemployment rate, which is 2.8%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We’re producing some very talented people,” Womack said. “We want to keep these people here.”
Manufacturing jobs in the Northwest Arkansas metro totaled 26,100 in August, below the 27,100 in August 2015 and well below peak sector employment of 36,300 in June 2000.
Boozman said the number one thing he hears across the state is “jobs, jobs, jobs and the economy.”
“We’re blessed to have such a diverse economy,” he said. “The key now is trying to keep up. … New technology allows us to be much more competitive with the rest of the world.”
Womack spoke of several challenges for manufacturing, including regulation and tax and energy policies. Job creators in his district not only need qualified workers, he said, but they also are having trouble finding people who can pass drug screening.
“Use of illicit drugs can kill an economy and can ruin a quality of life of a region,” Womack said. “If you are messing with illicit drugs, your dreams will end. Go out and get that job free of having an addiction.”
Also during the Manufacturing Day event, representatives of area manufacturing and construction companies discussed their respective businesses to students from area schools and other attendees, who toured NTI’s Business and Industry Training building.
The event was one of several hosted throughout the United States this week as part of Manufacturing Day 2016, supported by a group of national manufacturing organizations that advocate the industry, including the National Association of Manufacturers.