Busting the manufacturing myths in California

By Pamela Kan / Bishop-Wisecarver | Nov 15, 2018

Remember the MythBusters TV show that undertook crazy experiments to determine if something was fact or fiction? I wish we could do something like that focused on busting the myths around manufacturing. And for each myth that was proven false, we would flash that huge "busted" sign on screen.

But, busting the myths surrounding manufacturing isn't just for entertainment; it's real life and the consequences are long term. Any of you reading this article are well aware of the skills gap problem we are facing in this industry -- with more than 2 million jobs expected to go unfilled in the next decade. I lead a small, 65-year-old manufacturing company in California and we need skilled workers. And so do the roughly 36,000 other manufacturing firms in California. Why don't we have them? The myths have become legendary and quality workers aren't even considering this industry as a career option.

In the 2015 public perception report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, Americans are reluctant to choose careers in manufacturing, and thus, they aren't encouraging the next generation to pursue these jobs either. Manufacturing offers a strong career path and multiple benefits without requiring four-year degrees, but many schools focus only on universities and colleges because they often believe the myths around manufacturing.

I can wrap several of the myths into one sentence: Manufacturing is a dying industry for uneducated men that doesn't pay well and requires monotonous work in dark, dirty warehouses with outdated machinery. That does sound awful. I wouldn't work there, either. Thankfully, the reality is the complete opposite.

When I speak with students, parents and potential employees, I dispel these myths and the conversation is filled with their responses of "No way!" and "You're kidding!" and "How come I never knew that?"

Here are the top five truths I share:

  • Manufacturing jobs pay well -- an of average $100,000 per year in California -- and 92 percent of manufacturing employees were eligible for health insurance benefits in 2015. This is one of the highest percentages of any industry and significantly higher than the 79 percent average for all firms.

  • Manufacturing in 2018 means technologically advanced machinery and modern buildings designed to help teams of employees collaborate and communicate more easily. It also includes use of robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things, just to name a few. From hardware to software and everything in between, the technology advancements in manufacturing are constant and require workers who can keep adapting.

  • Manufacturing means innovation and it isn't a career where you check your brain at the door. It needs great problem solvers who can work to meet current customers' needs, while also developing new innovations for future concerns. A 2014 Deloitte/The Manufacturing Institute report found that 78 percent of Millennials said their decision to work at a company was influenced by how innovative they considered the company to be. Manufacturing is all about innovation -- it's what we do all day, every day.

  • Manufacturing is a thriving industry in California, providing more than $289 Billion and nearly 11 percent of total economic output in the state.

  • Manufacturing will have more than 2 million job openings in the next 10 years for people with specialized technical skills and advanced education where they can lead, develop, design, and invent. And while women are still the minority in manufacturing, the industry culture is inviting and accessible for anyone's success. I am proof of that.

I have been honored to serve on various national, regional, and local committees to help change some of the alarming skills gap stats in the manufacturing industry. And while that work is important and helps make a difference in the big picture, I believe it is up to each individual company to do their part by making a change.

All manufacturers, big and small, must help dispel the myths of manufacturing, and in turn, increase the number of manufacturing employees. Have these truths ready to share any time you talk to a potential employee -- even if they are still in elementary school! Make sure parents, teachers and counselors know the facts. Look for opportunities to speak at schools, participate in career fairs, and support students in STEM classes and clubs.

Open your facility to tours on National Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) each October. Surveys from this national program show that 64 percent of students who have attended an MFG Day event are more motivated to consider a career in manufacturing. And 84 percent are more convinced that manufacturing provides careers that are interesting and rewarding. Multiply these results with more manufacturing companies participating and more students attending and we will see a difference in the skills-gap issue.

Let's keep speaking these truths any chance we get and become the MythBusters of manufacturing. California manufacturers need skilled workers and we offer great career opportunities. That's no myth.

Pamela Kan is president of Bishop-Wisecarver Corporation in Pittsburg, California.