Manufacturers, government officials and nonprofits across the country are looking for ways to get the country’s brightest kids fired up about industry. They’re setting up engineering contests, backing classroom projects where kids design everything from audio speakers to artificial limbs, and taking students on tours of factories.Despite high unemployment, manufacturers find themselves short of skilled candidates for many jobs, such as operating or programming computer-controlled cutting tools or repairing sophisticated machinery. Manufacturers also fret that the U.S. isn’t producing enough engineers to design products and factory processes—and drive innovation.
The campaign is taking various forms to reverse any negative impressions talented students might have toward factory-related work. The National Tooling and Machining Association, for instance, sponsors the National Robotics League, where kids make robots that fight one another in competitions.It’s about time. Manufacturing employment isn’t what it used to be. Rarely does one see tired, grease-covered men and women performing repetitive tasks on an assembly line for eight hours a day. Today’s manufacturing employees are more likely to design and maintain the robots that make the cars rather than to perform manual labor on the lines themselves. And there should be some nice opportunities opening up as American manufacturing is renewed by the rise in onshoring and the energy boom.But as we’ve noted before, the manufacturing industry will not serve as the engine for mass employment as it has in the past. Automation and IT have reduced the need for massive numbers of people to perform manual labor in factories and auto plants. But even as more jobs are devoted to producing services rather than things, America will need talented, educated individuals to keep its factories operating smoothly.