Jobs of the Future Are Found in Old Standbys

If you listen to today’s gloomy economic news, it’s easy to forget there’s a graying workforce in many manufacturing fields that will create future job opportunities for young workers.

At the same time, many teens are being steered away from jobs in manufacturing.

So when Michigan’s economy turns around, what type of manufacturing jobs will be in demand?

We’ll need workers with expertise in skilled trades -“ welders, machinists and computer numeric control (CNC) programmers. Engineers and truck drivers will be in demand.

Young people who enter manufacturing might not work in the automotive industry, but there will be jobs in areas such as alternative energy and medical manufacturing.

Consider the following:
-¢ A National Association of Manufacturers report compiled in conjunction with Deloitte & Touche predicted manufacturers will need as many as 10 million new skilled workers by 2020.
-¢ The American Welding Society says the average American welder is in his or her mid-50s.
-¢ The U.S. Bureau of Labor says job opportunities for computer numeric control programmers are “excellent,” but Ferris State University has barely a handful of students in its program that teaches the skills needed for the job.

Most of the skilled trades workers I’m recruiting for manufacturers are between the ages of 45 and 55. If they get a new hire who is 30 or 35 years old, my clients are ecstatic.

What’s going to happen when these older workers retire?

The National Association of Manufacturers is concerned that there won’t be a new crop of skilled workers to replace them.

When the association released its study on the impending shortage of skilled workers, it said the source of the problem is twofold: Negative and outdated stereotypes of “assembly line” manufacturing jobs and an overemphasis on the importance of four-year degrees that overlooks the need for jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

While there are four-year degrees available in some skilled trades areas, machinists, CNC programmers and welders typically learn their craft at vocational schools and community colleges and through apprenticeships.

The “excellent” demand for computer numeric control programmers and operators between now and 2016 comes despite a projected slow decline in the number of those types of jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor reports. That’s because so few young people are going into the profession, which the federal government says had a median hourly wage of $15.23 in 2006 but can now pay $20 or even $25 per hour plus plenty of overtime.

Professor Gary Ovans, chairman of Ferris State University’s manufacturing department, said six students were enrolled last fall in the school’s manufacturing tooling technology program, which includes training in CNC programming. That’s compared to enrollment of 35 to 40 students in previous years.

“Anything with the term ‘manufacturing’ in it, I would suspect people look at it, especially parents, and think that’s the dead-end route to take,” Ovans said. “And that’s not the case.”

Job opportunities for machinists, who were paid a median wage of $16.71 in 2006, are projected to be “good,” the federal government says.

And while the U.S. Bureau of Labor says that future welding job opportunities will be below average, others -” including the American Welding Society -“ say they will be in high demand. The median pay for welders nationwide in 2006 was $14.90 per hour. In Michigan, a good welder can often make $22 an hour; underwater arc welders make $150,000 a year on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

There are signs of progress in coming up with replacements for the Baby Boomers who will be retiring from welding jobs.

Enrollment in the welding program at Ferris State has reached a record high, said Professor Jeff Carney, chairman of the university’s department of welding, engineering and technology. The welding program’s full-time enrollment of 150 is up from 101 a decade ago. Ferris State offers the only four-year welding degree in the state.

Carney thinks young people are realizing they can take advantage of supply and demand discrepancies in the welding field. Out of 29 students who got bachelor’s degrees in welding in May of 2009, 26 had full-time jobs as of May 26, Carney said.

Let’s hope what’s happening in Ferris State’s welding program is a sign of things to come.

As the economy improves, manufacturers are going to need even more talented young people with the specialized skills needed to keep the U.S. economy competitive.

Todd Palmer is president of Diversified Industrial Staffing in Troy, Mich., which provides clients with skilled individuals for jobs in the construction, manufacturing and logistics industries. He is also founder of the Job Search Process, a new training course that helps people find jobs. He can be reached at [email protected].