Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kentucky College Prepares Students for Manufacturing Jobs

Student participates in Machine Tool Technology program at
Gateway Community and Technical College in Florence, KY.

I’ll be honest and admit when I was ten years old and started actually thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up, “working on a factory floor” did not come across my mind.  Not at all saying other ten year olds never had the urge to work in the manufacturing industry when they grew up, but I never came across any who lived in the upper-middle class suburbs of rural Jersey (most of them just wanted to get paid to play “Madden NFL”.) 

Just to be clear, I’m not jumping on the often-ridden “Kids These Days Are Lazy” bandwagon, made popular by most 50+ year-olds with two cars in the driveway and nothing to do on Sunday but devour a bag of Lay’s while laughing at Tony Romo blow 4th and 1.  I’ve seen firsthand what the next generation knows about the world, and I believe they are going to do some very, very uplifting and interesting things. 

That being said, I do believe American manufacturing, while the rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated, does have one massive hurdle moving forward to shrug off; the pesky stigma that it’s an industry mired with lesser, plebian, “dirty” jobs.

It’s not true of course.  Manufacturing is probably one of the most fulfilling, modern and sanitized professions you can find these days (I know we’re supposed to view finance in this country as somewhat high-brow but uhm, no.) Not to mention with the addition of alternative energy industries as well as new innovations in natural gas, there remains the opportunity for it to become the most consistent and dynamic way to make a living in the US. 

Yet, making a living at a trade usually requires one very important step:  knowing your trade.  Inside and out.  And while there are people out there ready and able to do this, apparently they’re not enough.  This is the unfortunate and borderline absurd dilemma we face as a nation these days. 

Manufacturing.Net provided a microcosm example of this a couple weeks ago in a piece about Gateway Community and Technical College’s new Manufacturing department in Florence, Kentucky.   As the article states:

The school has about 115 manufacturing technology graduates a year, but officials acknowledge that manufacturers need 300 or more.
Gateway President Ed Hughes says the school is ‘moving as fast as we can.’
Trouble finding enough trained workers has machine tool maker Mazak looking at options to expand locally and around the world.
Mike Vogt, vice president for human resources, said the lack of enough graduates has led to ‘a little bit of the frustration out there in the manufacturing community.’” – Manufacturing.Net, Oct. 10, 2011  

That part about Mazak looking to expand “locally and around the world” is a cute way to avoid the dreaded O-Word, I’m guessing. 

I suppose one can comment on this story in a positive light, noting that aggregate demand for manufacturing know-how is out there, meaning companies are in a hiring mood during an employment crisis.  It is certainly good to know that one of the few bright spots in this economy continues to be a sector that depends on tangible, homegrown resources.

I say “borderline absurd”, however,  because I honestly don’t understand how a country with the most, THE most complex and far-reaching university system in the world (sure, Cambridge and Oxford came first but they’re a little outnumbered in alumni) finds itself unable to properly utilize that system to funnel desiring minds directly, quickly and efficiently into an industry that is not only a mainstay of this country’s short history, but also “kinda, sorta” a necessary mainstay of civilization as a whole.  It’s pretty simple in my book: the more talent you have in an area, the better chance your business has at being broad and successful.  This is a region that for the better part of this century and the last has been home to multiple mid-size locations belonging to companies such as Hahn Automotive, Schwan’s, Sara Lee and Cincinati Machines (oh yeah, it happens to be neighbors with Cincinnati.) It’s also a region that has grown a sixth of its population since 2000, and that’s not counting the greater Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati Metropolitan Area. 

And GCTC can just about muster 115 graduates for the surrounding population and manufacturing community. 

Meaning about as many people that showed up to my cousin Louie’s wedding disperse every year through Northern Kentucky looking to add to a skills-starved community.  No offense to Lou, he obviously knows more people than I do (I would like to point out here that I have my cousin beat in this subject on Facebook), but not enough to keep regional companies worrying about their recruitment pools. 

My above opinion about the stigma of a manufacturing job is also shared in Manufacturing.Net’s article.  However, I refuse to believe that with a 9% national unemployment figure, there aren’t more people out there willing to, pardon the expression, “get their hands a little dirty”.   If there is, as Gateway Board Chairman Rick Jordan states it, a “pipeline issue”, perhaps the disparity lies not in how prospective students view a manufacturing job, but in how vocational schools and academia in general choose to effectively communicate what a manufacturing job entails.

More on this later….

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

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