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Industry can overcome misconceptions that can be a barrier to young people starting a career in manufacturing

The pandemic has accelerated already existing transformations in manufacturing, especially the need for greater digitization. It also emphasizes the economic importance of production. According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the sector contributes $2.71 trillion to the economy annually, making U.S. manufacturing equivalent to the world’s eighth largest economy.

It is true that automated solutions such as robotics will be the driving force for further growth. However, investing the right amount of time and resources in both current and future employees is equally important.

According to NAM, there were 860,000 manufacturing jobs in the US as of March 2022. It’s no surprise that new talent is in high demand in this industry right now. This means that attracting and retaining a highly skilled workforce is a top priority. However, to provide the early-career talent needed to develop the next generation of American manufacturing, companies must promote manufacturing jobs and invest in early skills training, as other countries do.

A new era in manufacturing

Manufacturing work has historically been considered dangerous, hot, manual and difficult. To overcome this perception, educators, investors and businesses in the sector are taking action. Many have already launched outreach programs that allow students to learn about the industry through education and hands-on experience.

(Courtesy of ABB)

One of the simple and popular ways is to visit the site. By giving students, as well as their parents and teachers, access to the production site, they can see first-hand what it’s like to work alongside modern technology in a bright, clean and safe environment. This practice turns a popular misconception about the industry on its head and reveals the reality: manufacturing is a technologically advanced sector that is constantly evolving and has excellent growth prospects.

Another key tool in finding tomorrow’s manufacturing professionals is ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education. At ABB, we are committed to removing barriers to education. That’s why we offer tuition reimbursement for employees and continue to invest in internship and apprenticeship programs at U.S. high schools.

These programs focus on advanced technology and automation in the manufacturing sector and offer frequent opportunities for site visits. We also donated $1 million in advanced manufacturing equipment to the Peak Innovation Center in Fort Smith, Arkansas, a career and technology facility that promotes STEAM educational opportunities for high school students.

Here, students learn to operate this equipment, use data to solve real-world problems, and acquire the “soft skills” necessary for careers in manufacturing.

People will always matter

Today, the US manufacturing sector is losing more workers than it is gaining. This is unsustainable and will limit the industry if the trend continues. We are also experiencing a rapid transition to Industry 4.0 technologies and, as a consequence, must be able to adapt to the new skills and mindsets that this requires.

In fact, now more than ever, it is important to have a solid pool of technically skilled talent to implement these changes. It is our responsibility to share the benefits of a career in manufacturing with future talent and ensure they have the resources to pursue a STEAM education when they choose.

There is still a lot of work ahead. The more changes the industry undergoes, the more education will be needed, and it’s clear that the pace of change is accelerating. Companies that are leading the charge will certainly have an advantage, but for this transition to be successful, we need a collective effort. Industry, educators and economic development partners must work together to ensure that tomorrow’s needs are met by investing in the right kinds of learning and talent development today.

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Originally published on Business reporter

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