Manufacturing Jobs: Ours to Lose

Convertech, Inc.
Machinists at Convertech
As an owner of a small manufacturer for over 30 years, I can attest to the fact that U.S. school systems no longer produce work-ready adults who are equipped for careers as machinists. While today’s job’s report seems optimistic—with U.S. employers adding 271,000 jobs in October and manufacturing jobs remaining flat—the reality is that manufacturing is flat because nobody wants the jobs that are available. If they did, the manufacturing sector of job growth would explode.
Forty years ago, schools required all students, regardless of college or vocational track, to get hands-on experience in basic machinery as part of their metal and woodshop requirements. Whether it meant making a bird house or a metal box, all students had to actually makethings. For some reason, schools later decided that it was better to prep students for service jobs where they would sell what others made. And now we reap the results.
In my opinion, the reversal of this problem must start with the school systems. From a young age, students need to see manufacturing is a viable and honorable career path; one that doesn’t require a college degree (which not everyone desires). Manufacturing pays better than average wages, offers good working hours that allow people to spend more time with their families, and it suits the majority of people, if they would only be aware of it as a career option.
Historically, only the most studious went to college. Today, students are pushed to get degrees that many (perhaps most) won’t use. In my shop, less than 20% of the employees have college degrees—the other 80+% are hard-working people who live productive lives. A college degree would have wasted their money, years of their lives, and prepared them, in many cases, for jobs that don’t exist or are not needed.
I’ve been trying to get my local, county and state schools to listen to the needs of manufacturers for decades. We’ve seen a shift in their attitudes over the last five years and to an even greater extent in the last few months. NJ State and local schools have finally realized (a generation late, alas) that our students need to recognize manufacturing as a career path. 
I urge everyone to join the conversation: Contact local, county, and state school officials to advocate for our needs.  The more of us who raise our voices to those who can make this happen, the more they will listen, and the sooner the problem will be addressed.
It will be many years before U.S. school are producing qualified machinists again, but the process has to begin and it starts with manufacturers, large and small, pushing our school officials to produce a generation with the skills and attitude needed to grow companies.
A 30 year drought of young machinists is far too long. It’s up to manufacturers to push “the system” to change.
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Larry Taitel is President of Convertech Inc.

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