The stereotypes linger, but the reality has changed.
Manufacturing jobs, once typified as blue-collar work for the relatively uneducated, are now highly-skilled, technical and available to those with the necessary post-secondary education.
“The jobs that people could walk right into after high school don’t exist anymore,” says Gardner Carrick, vice president of The Manufacturing Institute, a trade group.
Forty-five years ago, one-fifth of manufacturing workers had some college education; now it’s one-half, according to government statistics.
Some of the change is explained by higher college enrollment. But the sweeping changes on the factory floor – where each worker produces as much as two or more once did, using complex and computer-automated machinery – are mainly responsible for the more educated workers, Carrick says.
“Some” college doesn’t mean credit from a four-year bachelor’s degree program, however. Whether it be welding, logistics or any of the other skills blue-collar jobs require, “it might require a two year associate degree [from a community college] or a certificate that might take less time,” says Carrick.
You can’t step into these jobs without validating your skill, unless you are able to find a co-op or apprenticeship combining work and study, he notes.
Indeed, finding the right skill training takes skill. “We looked at lots of programs,” Carrick says, “and we’ve endorsed and are promoting the best.”
Although manufacturing jobs are being added in most parts of the country, not all skills are needed in all areas. Checking with a local community college about what local employers need “is a good place to start,” says Carrick.
Increasingly, employers are working with community colleges to develop programs certifying the skills they need.
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