The myth surrounding the trades and manufacturing.
More than 35% of students who go to college will either change their academic major several times or drop out of college entirely. The biggest reason? They were not interested in a particular field before they went to school, and they did not have a “place” when they get there.
Beyond this problem, it is no secret that tuition rates are continuing to rise, and jobs are harder to secure. However, there is an opportunity that many students, parents and school counselors are overlooking. The opportunity lies in the skilled trades and manufacturing.
Today I want to look at the opportunities the manufacturing and skilled trade industries offer. I want to discuss why they are being overlooked as viable options. Then I want to dig into a few ways the skilled trades and manufacturers can successfully raise awareness and attract quality talent.
The myth surrounding the trades and manufacturing:
Skilled trades and manufacturing are not given the credit they deserve for being the foundation of our country. In most schools, they are not presented as a “first-choice” option for a career track, and many people do not understand the importance these professions play in our daily lives. Nor do they comprehend the immense skill and dedication required to keep American manufacturing and skilled labor efforts alive.
For more than 12 years, I have been teaching summer classes for the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters at Washtenaw Community College. I work with men and women who are the top of their trade and come from all over the U.S. and Canada for a week of classes. I am not teaching them how to plumb or weld (that would be disastrous!) I am instructing them on how to train apprentices.
I come from a manufacturing background and spent many summers in plants throughout high school and college. Even with this experience, I was not prepared for the level of skill, expertise, and knowledge that these UA tradesman had.
Not only are they the most skilled and educated, they are damn good men and women. They are honest, hard-working, family-oriented men and women, ready to better themselves, their union, and ultimately, their country.
Why the trades and manufacturing are often not seen as viable career options:
In the first part of every UA class, we discuss the mentors‘ frustrations, needs, and problems with teaching the modern student in the trades and manufacturing. Common trends appear every year, across all trades, throughout the country:
1) High schools are not teaching the skills needed for jobs in the trades or manufacturing.
2) High schools are not sending the students the skilled labor and manufacturing companies want. They often send the ones who “might not be able to make it in college.”
3) The trades and manufacturing are branded as low-end blue-collar jobs where you “get dirty and don’t make very much money.”
4) The students today do not see the value of a career in the trades or manufacturing. They are unaware of the opportunities!
When I taught high school television production at a suburban high school for 15 years, I witnessed the school push the majority of the students to attend college because that was the “next step.” This is a common trend among suburban high schools across the country that I observed first hand.
The problem is not that the younger generation lacks a good work ethic for manufacturing or skilled labor. Moreover, it is not that they don’t possess the potential to learn the hands-on skills. They are merely pointed down a different path. They are often directed to a path that does not resonate with their learning style, interests or strengths. The students are not informed about all of their options.
Overlooked opportunities in the skilled trades and manufacturing:
I learned quickly through my teaching experience that there are phenomenal opportunities being left on the table when it comes to skilled labor and manufacturing. Most of these organizations will fund training, pay for tuition (some up to the master’s level), and will even pay employees to learn and work simultaneously. Then, if the apprentice completes the program, they will more than likely receive a pay raise, gain a career and skill for life, and acquire very little (if any) student debt. On top of that? They will have achieved an associate’s degree if not a bachelor degree– all while being paid and gaining valuable work experience.
Why don’t more people know about this?
We could blame the schools, but they have enough to worry about already. The parents’ maybe? Good luck with that.
There is no particular person or institution we can blame nor are there any valid excuses. Excuses are for people who don’t have the answers or don’t want to work at making a difference. The truth is; we need to make a change.
How can we raise awareness about the opportunities in the skilled trades and manufacturing?
One way to make positive change is to gain involvement from the trades, the unions, the shops, and the manufacturing plants themselves. They need to strategically and intentionally position themselves to attract talent and to challenge the misconceptions people have about the career opportunities offered. Some are already doing this, but many are not.
Attracting talent and capturing the right talent is essential to bringing Michigan manufacturing and trades back to the top.
Here are 5 things manufacturers and the skilled trades can do to attract better talent:
- Update their brand: Manufacturing plants and trade shops need to look sexier. They must be willing to modernize, be aware of what their ideal candidates are looking for, all while staying true to their core principles.
- Develop a mobile website: The importance of a modern website that is mobile friendly cannot be stressed enough. The website needs to highlight the career opportunities as well as the products being made or the work being accomplished.
- Create professional videos: Videos that feature the plant or facility, the processes, and the organization’s culture are useful. Videos can also be used to showcase the need for quality trade and manufacturing workers.
- Raise awareness of opportunities: People, especially students, need to learn about the possibilities and benefits available if they were to go into the trades or manufacturing. Companies need to capture this information in marketing materials and videos and then need to communicate with the relevant people such as school counselors and staffing agencies.
- Stay relevant: These companies need to present relevant information to potential employees in a way that appeals to them and is easy to understand. Do your research to identify what will resonate best with your target audience. A strong presence online and an active social media presence will make a big difference.
By rebranding and being intentional about attracting better talent, the trade shops and manufacturing plants will also attract more business. Clients and future customers will see that these organizations want the best employees in the plant and in the field.
Our hope at Michigan Creative is to raise awareness about these issues. We want to serve as a partner to Michigan skilled trades and manufacturers to help them address the misconceptions about the validity of the career paths they offer and the valuable work they do every single day. We are excited to help these organizations rebrand and start attracting the talent they deserve and need.
CEO of Michigan Creative
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