Our son, 16, goes to what is known in Chicago as the large math and science high school: Lane Technical. But in his freshman year, we learned that “technical” – which has been shortened to “tech” recently — includes only limited areas in the curriculum that once burnished the school’s reputation: manufacturing and shop. Today, the school has migrated this focus to a modern “Maker’s Lab” with 3D printing, a strong computer science curriculum and, of course, math and science.
But this summer, we wanted to expose our teenager to more foundational manufacturing skills: various forms of metal work. So we enrolled him at the Chicago Industrial Art & Design Center, a non-profit organization which describes itself as a multidisciplinary industrial arts and design resource center with departments including casting & molding and metalworking & forging, among other areas.
In just two weeks so far of classes, he has gained experience in welding, slitting and grinding (forging comes in a few weeks) skill sets that arguably bring more practical knowledge than what he will gain throughout his high school career — ironically at what was once a school with similar classes of its own.
Many affluent parents we know want to expose their teens and college age children to professional careers including law, banking and medicine. For some, this might be the right professional track. But the notion that summer internships or training programs in white collar fields are the right course for everyone — whenever possible — is exactly why there are manufacturing job shortages today.
And from a business and management perspective, we would argue it is precisely why the management tracks in industrial firms such as GE which recruit entirely from MBA programs, rather than the ranks of skilled operators and plant managers, have failed the shareholders of these companies.
This last point is a bit of a tangent of ours (and it’s a reason why we’re fans of such companies as Caterpillar, where all of management also trains for line jobs). But what is unarguable is that the need for skilled manufacturing training has never been greater, a topic that we have covered many times in Surplus Record.
Ironically, even in Chicago, perhaps the epicenter of manufacturing at the country’s crossroads for much of the past century, manufacturing skills and vocational programs can be challenging to find. As we have discovered, tutoring centers for the SAT/ACT and general math skills can be found collocated with Starbucks on the same street corners in dozens if not hundreds of neighborhoods. But finding practical manufacturing and vocational centers requires a concerted effort.
It’s not that jobs aren’t available for those that go through this training. According to MarketWatch, in 2018, “264,000 new manufacturing jobs were added, representing the highest number of new workers since 1988” and the same year, “as a percent of the total workforce, manufacturing [employment] rose for the first time since 1984.”
Similarly a study from Deloitte has found that the manufacturing skills gap “may leave an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028, with a potential economic impact of 2.5 trillion.” Further, Deloitte suggests that manufacturing job openings have grown at a double-digit CAGR for the past 24 months and that “digital talent, skilled production, and operational managers may be three times as difficult to fill in the next three years.”
Deloitte suggests reasons for the manufacturing skills gap includes “shifting skillsets due to the introduction of advanced technologies and automation, misperceptions of manufacturing jobs and retirement of baby boomers.” But to this list, we would also add the simple fact that not enough parents deliberately expose their kids to manufacturing.
We asked ourselves that if we had the time and money to tutor our kids for a standardized test, didn’t we also have time to teach them at least the basics of a manufacturing trade?
Perhaps more parents should be asking the same question.