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Initiatives changing perception of careers in manufacturing

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Lehigh Carbon
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Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville will hold an open house on Oct. 7, Manufacturing Day, showcasing training equipment simulators used in advanced manufacturing.

The Wall Street Journal cites Labor Department data that say the number of open manufacturing jobs has been rising since 2009, and this year stands at the highest level in 15 years.

Manufacturing work has changed over the past several decades, most notably in the past 15 years as companies have invested in advanced machinery and technologies. Working in these facilities with advanced manufacturing processes requires a new set of skills and knowledge.

As American manufacturing continues its impressive renaissance, there is an increasing need for a quality, skilled workforce. These skilled workers can come from the existing labor pool, but more and more, there is a need to increase the labor pool of skilled manufacturing workers.

Part of the problem with attracting new employees to manufacturing careers is the perception of manufacturing jobs. That perception is that they are not desirable jobs, are unskilled professions and do not offer family sustaining wages.

That could not be further from the truth, as modern manufacturing offers people with the right skills and abilities well-paying jobs that have ample opportunity for advancement and long-term security.

To attract more quality employees, manufacturers and their trade associations – including the National Association of Manufacturers, Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Fabricators & Manufacturers Association and the Manufacturers Resource Center – have started campaigns to address this need for quality, skilled manufacturing workers.

One ongoing activity done locally is the initiative called Dream It. Do it.

This program aims to educate young school-age students and their parents about careers in advanced manufacturing.

This is done through interactive websites and video contests that promote learning about local manufacturing.

Local student groups are given video recording equipment to create, edit and showcase their homemade videos that tell us “What's so cool about manufacturing,”

The Pennsylvania Dream Team is another local initiative that takes young manufacturing employees and sends them to schools to talk to students, their parents, teachers and guidance counselors about jobs in manufacturing.

These jobs include computer-aided-design technicians, machinists, manufacturing engineers and engineering technicians.

During these presentations, Dream Team members talk about their role in manufacturing, what the work is like, their life and hobbies and what education beyond high school is needed for these jobs.

A national event is Manufacturing Day. Held annually, it encourages manufacturers to open their doors to demonstrate what goes on in a modern plant.

There are 67 events through the first week of October in Pennsylvania in conjunction with Manufacturing Day, which this year is Oct. 7. There are about a dozen manufacturers throughout the Lehigh Valley that are open for tours or information sessions.

The Manufacturing Day events are not open only to manufacturers. Schools are encouraged to participate.

For many of these skilled manufacturing positions, some education or credential often is needed after high school. Career and technical centers, community colleges and universities all play a key role in preparing students for careers in manufacturing and in educating the public about these jobs.

Lehigh Carbon Community College also participates in Manufacturing Day and is holding an open house for its advanced manufacturing training lab from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 7.

Participants will see training equipment and simulators used in advanced manufacturing. Representatives of several local manufacturers will be present to discuss their career openings.

Tom Bux is the director of the Center for Leadership and Workforce Development (workforce.lccc.edu) at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville. He can be reached at tbux@lccc.edu.

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