February 2014
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TD Magazine

Manufacturing Learners

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Labor shortages in manufacturing and other STEM fields could bring about a new approach to learning.

The manufacturing industry has about 237,000 job vacancies—a shortage that has been increasing every year since 2005, but which is about to get much worse. Nearly 80 percent of the manufacturing workforce is between the ages of 45 and 65, and one-third of these workers are nearing retirement, according to a recent report from industrial-supply trade publisher ThomasNet News. The industry faces a "ticking biological clock" that could derail future growth.

According to Paul Gerbino, ThomasNet News's publisher, young workers don't consider manufacturing as a career because of the stigma that the jobs are dirty, low skilled, and low paying. But many of these jobs now involve sophisticated technology, and they pay accordingly. Salaries can start at $50,000 or more, and climb to more than $100,000 a year for skilled, experienced engineers and technicians.

The industry needs an "image makeover," Gerbino says, and stakeholders need to reach out to high school and college students to create excitement about building tangible things. Many companies are implementing apprenticeship programs and working with schools to provide technical training to students.

And several not-for-profit organizations are dedicated to the overarching cause of closing the STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—skills gap. US2020 is an initiative from the White House to pair 1 million STEM professionals with mentees from minority and low-income families by the year 2020; Next Generation Science Standards seeks to align science and math education in the United States with industry needs; and the Maker Education Initiative has helped usher in the growing "maker movement"—a technological and creative learning revolution that encourages learners to develop STEM skills by making building, and inventing.

About the Author

Stephanie Castellano is a former writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD). She is now a freelance writer based in Gainesville, Florida.

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