GREENVILLE — Eight local businesses showcased the opportunities in advanced manufacturing Friday to help address the national skills gap and inspire the next generation of American workers as part of National Manufacturing Day.
Darke County sophomores were treated to tours and seminars at the companies to learn about the wide variety of jobs and lifelong careers that could await them in the modern manufacturing world.
The county commissioners signed a proclamation for Manufacturing Day, noting the long history of manufacturing in Darke County for “providing significant jobs for hundreds of people” and to “draw greater attention to outstanding career opportunities in manufacturing.”
Just a few short years ago, when there weren’t enough jobs to go around and skilled workers found themselves unemployed because of the economic downturn and reduced production. In contrast, manufacturers now find themselves hard-pressed to find skilled, reliable workers to fill the well-paid, stable positions available in their companies. By the year 2020, there will be a shortage of nearly 10 million skilled workers in the American manufacturing industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Part of the problem is the mindset that has grown in recent decades — that you aren’t a successful person if you haven’t gone to college, said Lisa Wendel, Career Pathway Coordinator for Darke County Economic Development.
According to a Manufacturing Institute report this year, only about 37 percent of survey respondents would recommend a career in manufacturing to their children. Of those who had “high industry familiarity,” however, the number was twice as high.
Not only is the modern manufacturer an opportunity for good-paying, challenging positions for workers coming straight out of high schools, but there are many positions available for people who have gone on to additional education and training for the specialized skills needed. There are also many opportunities for advancement within the companies.
“Everyone in here started in the production floor,” Randy O’Dell, president and owner of JAFE Decorating, told a group of Bradford students Friday, indicating his management team.
The Daily Advocate accompanied students for tours at JAFE and FRAM in Greenville on Friday.
O’Dell told students about the variety of positions held by the more than 70 employees at his small glass decorating firm, including production, inspection, shipping and receiving, billing, maintenance and tooling, paint technicians and product development. Those jobs encompass skills such as logistics, engineering, accounting, human resource management, chemistry, graphic design and many more skill sets.
Ed Orazen, plant manager at JAFE, told students that an exciting part of the job is taking the challenge of an idea and figuring out how to make it work in the real world, to find ways of manufacturing that can produce the products and make it profitable.
At FRAM, Randy Clark, president of the union, was one of the tour guides who took students through the facility that houses “miles and miles” of conveyors transporting oil filters and their components through automated stations that stamp metal, fold the filter material, assemble parts and paint the housing, all the way through to placing the completed filters in boxes and stacking them on pallets for shipping.
Computers, touchscreens and robots could be seen at every turn.
“What I notice is that all the people we pass in here look like they’re happy,” Commissioner Mike Stegall observed during the FRAM tour.
“We’re excited about Manufacturing Day. It gives us a chance to really thank those 15,000 men and women who build great appliances for us every day. But it also gives us the opportunity to really open up our facilities,” Jim Keppler, vice president of integrated supply chain and quality at Whirlpool told U.S. News and World Report. “There’s still this lingering perception that manufacturing plants are these dirty, dark, dangerous places where there’s mundane, boring jobs going on. In fact, we have some highly technical, fun, engaging jobs across our manufacturing footprint.”