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Manufacturing - Now Here's a Good B2B PR Project
A recent article on Yahoo! Finance described the serious shortage of factory workers in the United States, with manufacturers reporting 600,000 unfilled jobs nationwide. The article describes typical annual earnings of $70,000 to $80,000 for experienced workers, with some earning more than $100,000 by age 28. Wow. But the fact is, these jobs aren’t being filled and, like most things, the reasons are complex. Most people attribute the labor gap to the following, simplified version of recent history.
- Over a few decades, manufacturing jobs are sent overseas in droves.
- As a result, vocational and training programs go unfunded or are less accessible.
- Reduced exposure leads to lack of interest from the young and employable.
But perhaps more than anything, declining interest in manufacturing as a career may be the result of decades of negative imagery surrounding manufacturing, thanks at least partially to the annual national pastime we call election campaigns. Every year, our public servants blame each other for the loss of manufacturing jobs, visiting mothballed plants of yesteryear and lending sympathetic ears to out-of-work assembly line workers to drive home the point. The young and employable see these images and develop a negative perception of manufacturing.
At the same time, companies like Facebook get positive news coverage for developing groundbreaking communications platforms that allow billions of strangers and friends to engage in mostly inane, self-serving image building and game playing. Yikes — did I say that?
So the young and employable spend their formative years on computers and mobile devices, dreaming of someday developing the next “Cut the Rope” while they see next to nothing about the great manufacturing technology and career opportunities that surround them.
It’s a shame, really. Spend an hour touring a serious medical device manufacturing facility and you can’t help but be blown away. Watch someone machining turbine blades for an aircraft engine and your head spins from the overwhelming complexity and automation. Observe the fabrication of a silicon wafer used in flat-screen monitors and you get lost in the microscopic technologies and processes that make it possible.
This stuff is interesting. No, it’s not interesting; it’s fascinating. And, according to manufacturers who are hiring, it’s stable employment. So the question is, how does an industry (as a whole) change perceptions?
What manufacturing needs is a sustained PR campaign that makes a job in manufacturing look fascinating and stable, not sad and risky. You know the type. Maybe they could borrow from some of the classics. Something like:
“Manufacturing: The Other Way to Make a Living.”
“Make Something. It Does a Person Good.”
“Great Products Come From Happy Workers.”
I’m a mechanical engineer at the core. I love seeing stuff produced. I love manufacturing, and I’m hopeful for a bright future as the rising costs, realities and difficulties of sourcing from China, India and other low-cost sources set in. But it will require a fresh perspective on careers that involve actively making stuff versus (perceived) sexier options like professional services or information technology. I’m thinking a sustained PR effort would be a good place to start. What do you think?
Footnote: My math says filling these 600,000 jobs would lower unemployment by 0.4 percent. Maybe the Obama or Romney campaigns could fund the PR program and start filling some positions. I’m sure getting credit for a 0.4 percent reduction in unemployment would help their election causes.