What are the attitudes of young Americans toward pursuing manufacturing as a career? A recent field research project gives us some clues – and the results don’t paint a very pretty picture.
The national survey was sponsored by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International and was administered to ~500 teenage respondents. The poll found that a majority of teenagers (~52%) have little or no interest in a manufacturing career and another 21% are ambivalent, leaving only around one quarter showing any interest at all in considering manufacturing as a career path.
When asked why a career in manufacturing is not attractive to them, the top four reasons cited by respondents were:
Prefer to have a professional career: 61%
Prefer a job with better pay: 17%
Wish to have better career growth than manufacturing would provide: 15%
Don’t want to do the physical work: 14%
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by these results, because manufacturing has never had quite the cachet of a professional career. But with the number of people graduating from college these days with no meaningful job prospects, it’s a bit ironic that teens still consider the traditional college degree/professional career launch pad as the better way to go.
Indeed, there are a good many misconceptions about “dirty” manufacturing work activities that are completely at odds with the reality. In fact, many manufacturing personnel work with the most advanced, sophisticated equipment and systems that require the kind of high-tech computer skills young people love to apply! And advanced technologies like robotics are to be found in manufacturing more than in any other industry.
Here are several other sobering findings from the FMAI survey:
Six in ten teens have never toured a factory – or even stepped inside any kind of manufacturing facility – in their life.
Only about one-quarter of teens have ever enrolled in an industrial arts or shop class.
~85% of teens spend two hours or less in any given week “working with their hands” on projects such as models or woodworking (30% spend no time at all on such pursuits during the week).
Here’s a thought: Could kids’ ambivalence about manufacturing be influenced by what’s perceived as “cool” in the career world?
TV programs, when they deal with the working world at all, aggrandize the careers of lawyers, doctors and law enforcement officers … or big business tycoons à la Donald Trump. Many school administrators tend to focus on only one “honorable” education trajectory for students – the traditional university degree.
Certainly in today’s economy, manufacturing jobs are being hammered just as much as employment is in many other industries. But despite the current situation, I think it’s possible more parents would support the idea of their children pursuing a manufacturing career – or a career in trades like welding or electrical – if the pursuit these types of careers received a little more moral support from the wider society.