Parents are the obstacle to manufacturing careers

I have been an economic developer since the mid 1990s, working at the local, state and regional levels. Day in, day out, my economic development colleagues and I work to retain and attract jobs and capital investment to our communities. It’s an exciting and interesting career with exposure to all types of people and industries, including manufacturers.

In recent years, manufacturing companies worldwide have expressed concerns about the shrinking availability of skilled applicants. This remains true today.

Automation and technology continue to change the number and types of manufacturing jobs as well as the manufacturing environment. Manufacturing may become increasingly technical and automated, requiring fewer employees, but manufacturing isn’t going away. We are a society of consumers. Products, parts and assembly will always be required.

The need for skilled workers remains.

Parental roadblocks

When talking about manufacturing careers, I hear again and again that a major obstacle to addressing this gap is parental resistance to encouraging children — including their daughters — to consider careers in manufacturing.

In all of the conversations I have participated in on this topic, I have never heard a dissenting opinion. All agree, parental perceptions are the problem. Most argue parents lack a present-day view of the skills and income opportunities offered by careers in manufacturing. Many of the participants in these conversations are parents themselves.

If all are in agreement that parental perceptions need to change, then why aren’t we seeing a shift? Why aren’t more young people being encouraged to explore this field?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 1975, nearly three of four 30-year-olds had married, had a child, were not enrolled in school and lived on their own. In 2015, just one in three 30-year-olds have these characteristics.

Today, more 30-year-olds have earned at least a high school diploma and are in the labor force, while fewer are earning a moderate income or are homeowners. I hear time and again stories of recent college grads working in minimum wage jobs, yet manufacturers struggle to fill open positions.

Educate yourself

We have some fantastic Columbus Region manufacturing companies. Let’s help elevate awareness of career opportunities at neighboring manufacturers. The upcoming Oct. 6 National Manufacturing Day presents an opportunity to do so.

On this day manufacturers across the U.S. open their doors for tours and events to increase awareness and correct misperceptions about manufacturing careers. Other supporting organizations, such as community colleges and vocational schools, may host similar events. We’ve got some fantastic manufacturing training in the region. Be a part of the solution. Visit Columbus 2020 and MFG Day for information on events taking place near you. Spread the word. Opportunity awaits.


Patty Huddle is Senior vice president, Economic Development at Columbus 2020. Patty leads the Prepared Communities Win initiative, is the primary point of contact for redevelopment projects and oversees the execution of the site redevelopment pilot program. She has worked in economic development for 21 years within a variety of environments, from departments of one to organizations with large teams. Her blend of private and public sector experience gives her unique insight into the perspectives around the table when companies plan to expand.