In a time when the manufacturing industry is in dire need of new employees as more and more baby boomers move to retire, I find it interesting that more than 50 percent of 2011 college graduates are either jobless or underemployed (AP Report). To me the numbers don’t add up. Sure, at first glance, it’s easy to blame the poor economy for the unemployment rate, but try considering reasons beyond that. What are the real reasons many college graduates are unemployed? I don’t necessarily think it’s because there aren’t jobs, because in the manufacturing industry, there are plenty. Some have estimated there are hundreds of thousands of jobs that are going unfilled in manufacturing in the US alone; jobs that are good-paying and that can be the foundation and means for someone to attain their “American Dream”.

As I reflect on this information, a couple of things come to mind. Kids growing up today are expected to go to college and graduate. This is great, but over the past few years, we have seen more and more students going to college without a well thought out career in mind. They all have aspirations to be “successful” and have a “dream job” once they graduate, but many students are never really able to untangle what that dream job looks like. This can lead to four or more years of education along with college debt without a clear career path. 

It’s interesting why students fail to consider and choose to, or not to, join the manufacturing industry. There is likely a perception of manufacturing that it is dirty, assembly-line-type of work, and too blue-collar to be both their dream job and to provide a level of success that they are “expected” to achieve. The truth is that this perception is not reality. The modern manufacturing workers today can make a salary comparable to many white-collar careers with often greater stability and life balance.  The reason? Many manufacturing jobs are not the traditional assembly line roles anymore. With advancements in technology, there is an increased need for more highly-educated employees to join the manufacturing workforce. Many operators are programming machines that control manufacturing processes which require more advance knowledge of computers and how they operate. According to the 2012 CRS Report for Congress,53 percent of all manufacturing workers had at least some college education in 2011, up from 43 percent in 1994. As manufacturing automation continues to evolve there is going to be an ever growing need for more highly educated employees. So what’s the disconnect? How can the manufacturing industry reach more students and get them excited to join our industry?

Changing the perception of the manufacturing industry needs to begin before the student reaches high school. Educating parents, school administrators and the students themselves is critical. For example, most of the students’ influencers don’t realize that there are other options when it comes to higher education and fulfilling careers. As an example, the lack of the traditional shop class in middle and high schools has really hurt our industry because that used to be the time when the students’ developed an understanding of manufacturing. In some instances, some students are getting that same knowledge and understanding by obtaining an Associate’s degree from a technical school. However that is a much narrower group of potential employees. The important part of all of this is to give students exposure and an understanding of today’s manufacturing careers before they invest in a full four year degree that burdens them with large and often crushing debt.

In addition to educating students and their influencers, including parents, teachers and administrators, about how to get into the industry, manufacturers also have to find ways to attract the always-connected-touchscreen-minded young person. This generation expects to always be connected. This generation has multiple mobile devices and interacts with peers in new ways all the time. Manufacturers need to find ways to leverage this tendency to be connected, whether it is at the loading dock, on the shop floor or in their manager’s office. For example, imagine allowing employees to do some or all of their work on any device, wherever and whenever they want, resulting in a workspace that moves with its employees. Cisco is working with manufacturers across all industries today to provide secure and efficient access through employee’s various mobile devices.

As we start changing the perception of the manufacturing industry, it is important that the next generation understands that skilled manufacturer workers are highly paid, have vital and rewarding roles that can offer them a real opportunity to attain the “American Dream!


Dan Kern

Lead Marketing Manager

Manufacturing & Energy Industry Sector