By Jim Morgan, WMC Foundation President
Why do parents speak with great pride about their 4-year university-bound children, but when discussing their technical college student often precede the comment with “he’s just attending tech school”?
Why do we only care about K-12 system measurements that revolve around 4-year institutions?
Why is there outrage if an advanced placement course is cut, but silence as many career and technical education departments die on the vine?
Why do so many consider a job in manufacturing not as “prestigious” as a job in a cubicle?
Why aren’t we as concerned about lifetime employment as we are about lifetime education?
Why do we think the expectations of students entering the Wisconsin Technical College System are lower than the University of Wisconsin System?
Why do so many value manufacturing jobs… for someone else’s children?
I am guessing those questions hit a nerve for anyone following the workforce paradox in Wisconsin.
What has amazed me more than anything else during the past 12 months of preaching the value of manufacturing and manufacturing jobs is the complete lack of understanding of what these careers and companies mean to Wisconsin. And before the financial, healthcare, energy, legal or transportation industries get upset, I can make a pretty strong argument that the citizenry is at least aware that you exist and values what you do. But manufacturing?
Not a clue.
In addressing the workforce paradox, WMC and the WMC Foundation set out a few goals 12 months ago:
- Raise the awareness of manufacturing
- Improve the image of manufacturing
- Challenge people’s perceptions of manufacturing
- Celebrate the value of manufacturing
A quick summary of recent articles covering WMC events and presentations indicates we are making progress:
“Manufacturing is not a dirty word – nor is it an industry for the uneducated.” – Daily Tribune, Wisconsin Rapids
“Many parents saw factory jobs disappearing from Rock County a few years ago and became convinced that manufacturing as a career path is dead. On this Labor Day weekend, however, we’re here to tell you that notion is wrong.” – The Janesville Gazette
“Last year, 47 hourly workers at Strohwig Industries (each) took home more than $100,000.” – The Reporter, Fond du Lac
“People don’t understand we are still employing 430,000 in manufacturing in this state.” – Green Bay Press-Gazette
“To help close the skills gap, companies across the state are adopting strategies to get high school students interested in manufacturing-related jobs.” – La Crosse Tribune
And now, October has been declared “Manufacturing Month” and it will be another opportunity to educate. That will be followed by WMC Foundation-led regional sessions offering solutions and best practices to help local communities continue to ensure they are providing quality education and meeting the needs of the workforce. The journey continues.
In the end, competitiveness is what provides business with an advantage. Wisconsin, Germany, Green Bay, Illinois, China, Prairie du Chien – everyone has a workforce problem. More than any other issue, the country/state/community that can offer workforce solutions will win. My money is on Wisconsin.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JimMorgan1960
Celebrate Manufacturing Month this October. Visit www.wimanufacturingmonth.org for more information.