Everyone has out “Now Hiring” signs these days. We in manufacturing like to think that we have it tougher than anyone. We are low in visibility. Only about 8% of the population works in manufacturing these days and our facilities are always on the outskirts of town. Our work environment is not glitzy. While we are a long way from the sweat shops of the past, some are still affected by heat and require physical exertion. Lastly, almost no student’s parent says, “I wish my son/daughter would go into manufacturing”.
With that as a backdrop, we manufacturers are faced with a difficult task. We need to entice, coerce, and attract people to a “non-office like” environment. Yet they need to be people we are comfortable with them operating, programming, and maintaining our equipment that cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
Add to that, we are in an age of JIT (just-in-time) and direct to inventory receipt of good. Manufacturing workers have just as much potential, if not MORE than any office worker, in affecting the company’s relationship with its customers. Not through verbal or written communication but through the quality of our products.
The evolution of quality in the USA went from inspecting it in, to testing it in, to now where we rely on vetted and qualified processes as a better return on the investment. Yet the manufacturing worker is still a part of that process and needs to be just as honed as any piece of equipment. In fact, the manufacturing worker is the check on the equipment rather than as it was in the past.
So, the true test of a company’s fitness and longevity, will ultimately be the ability to attract, engage and retain the right operations individuals. Primarily those that did not go to college, may not have gone to a two-year school, may not have ever made anything in their life.
More than ever, the relationship between manufacturing and the K-12 school system is the critical link between industry’s success and failure. Working with educators to familiarize BOTH students AND parents with the opportunities available in manufacturing will be critical to our regaining acceptance and a return to our being a self-reliant nation. That is one of the lessons we should be taking away from the COVID era.