Even as the manufacturing process and machinery involved in making doors and windows becomes increasingly automated, our industry still is challenged to find a reliable and stable workforce to perform all the necessary functions and processes involved in building high quality products. It really begs the question these days about what our industry is doing to develop interest among our youth toward pursuing careers in manufacturing.

I just spoke with a customer who is struggling to fill manufacturing positions with new people as his seasoned employees retire. He called in a consultant who told him that the mindset of younger workers is to land a job with high pay, flexible hours, and to do work that is not considered as “mundane.” The company has a host of open positions. They looked at 80 resumes, interviewed 25, offered 5 jobs, and 3 showed up for their first day of work. Of the 3, one worked for a week and then came into the office asking if he could move into a sales position, although he has no experience in sales. This is a sad situation, and what is particularly disturbing is that I hear this same type of story from customers all too often.

The consultant also said that parents, educators and the manufacturing industries need to get to our children by the age of eight to 10 years old to instill work ethic and interest in manufacturing jobs, if we expect to have a stable, reliable and engaged workforce in the future.

In a nutshell, we need smart, resourceful and highly motivated people with strong work ethics on the production floor to guarantee our future success as a leading nation for manufacturing. So, this makes me ponder about what can be done today to ensure that tomorrow’s needs for highly skilled manufacturing employees can be met.

Many young people consider manufacturing jobs to be low-paying positions, in dirty, outdated factories with little room for advancement. This is compounded by a general lack of influence among educators when it comes to promoting careers in manufacturing. Well, it is true that I have seen my share of door and window factories that were cluttered, hot and noisy with people working repetitive jobs that could be considered quite boring. However, over the years I have also seen these same operations transform and new ones spring up that are well laid out with automated equipment, being run by tech-savvy employees who are part of highly motivated manufacturing teams who are paid extremely well.

Over the years I have seen this industry morph into one where skill in high technology is becoming much more important than simple manual labor, and that’s a role that the younger generations are well suited to fill. If you don’t believe me, the next time you are at a family reunion and are having difficulty with Android or iOS, please don’t try to figure it out yourself; just ask one of your grandchildren for help and watch them shine!

So how can we turn the tide as it relates to how careers in manufacturing are viewed by our youth? Well, young people are heavily invested in social media so we can use these platforms to educate our youth about manufacturing jobs and careers. We can also support training programs and educational policies that encourage education in manufacturing related fields. Co-mentorships can also be encouraged, which pair older employees, who can teach younger employees different manufacturing processes, with younger employees, who can help their elders with new technologies. Door and window companies can continue to invest in new technologies in the workplace, which complements the thirst for personal development in high technology. But what about the issue that the consultant brought up about getting to our youth by the age of ten?

That’s where summer camps and educational programs come in. I recently saw a great example of a summer camp program posted by a friend on Facebook. The Tuscarawas County Dale Lauren Foland Manufacturing Camp is a three-day exploration into the world of manufacturing for Tuscarawas County Fall 2024 seventh and eighth graders. It is a three-day summer camp for students entering the seventh and eighth grades. Students will discover the technology and innovation of manufacturing through presentations from local experts and tours of manufacturing facilities in the area. It covers core competencies used in everyday manufacturing such as safety, design, leadership, lean manufacturing quality, marketing, technology, processes, environmental, purchasing, soft skills and logistics.

A great example of an educational program can be found at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Sneha Prabha Narra, of the Carnegie Mellon College of Engineering, found a “Sweet Way to Teach Kids About Manufacturing.” Introducing grade school students to engineering and manufacturing is one of the ways that Narra and other faculty associated with the Manufacturing Futures Institute (MFI) fulfill their education mission with a fantastic outreach program aimed at educating school age students who will be needed for the high-tech manufacturing workforce of the future.

One thing is for certain: People are the backbone of any manufacturing industry. Door and window companies, no matter how automated they may become, will always rely to a significant extent on a stable, well-trained and highly motivated workforce to achieve a leadership position and achieve financial success. Laying the groundwork for the workforce of the future by educating our youth about careers in manufacturing is essential!

1 Comment

  1. Nice article Jim! Thanks for the call-out on the Dale Lauren Foland Tuscarawas County Manufacturing Camp. Our camp is one of the longest running and is the largest in the state of Ohio thanks to the support of local manufacturing companies in Tuscarawas County Ohio. The phrase that it “takes a village to…” applies here…the local manufacturing companies come together, offer an experience for kids in their formative years that shows them “Manufacturing” as a career option in an entirely different light.

    We do a survey at the end of each camp. We ask “BEFORE coming to this camp, would you have considered manufacturing industry as a career option for you?” We get 25-30% say YES or MAYBE. We then ask “Would you NOW consider manufacturing industry as a career option for you?” We get 75-80% say YES (no MAYBEs)! We like to think we are moving the needle.

    Our Tuscarawas County manufacturers are like any other manufacturers these days that are dealing with situations and examples like you note in your article. It takes work and cooperation, but if we expect to have a skilled and talented workforce in our industry, manufacturers need to come together to do whatever it takes to change people’s perceptions of “Manufacturing.”

    Thanks for highlighting this “issue” in your article. Keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *