WAGUESPACK: Manufacturing A Promising Career Choice For Post-Millenials

Most kids (and adults) have no idea what they want to be when they grow up.

When I ask any of my three boys, I typically hear from my oldest that he wants to teach, while my youngest is determined to be a wide receiver in the NFL and my middle son says he just wants to be a dad.

While I love the fact they all have career goals that are reflective of their personalities, I haven’t had the heart yet to break it to my youngest son that his father’s DNA will be his biggest impediment to professional gridiron glory. I am sure he will figure that out soon enough.

For countless other young students in this state, they also need to start thinking about what they want to do when they grow up. Some may have a clear path charted out, others may strive to follow in the footsteps of a parent or grandparent, and a large group of Louisiana kids enter early adulthood every year without any clear direction on how best to match their skills and interests to a successful and rewarding career.

A smart choice for many of those Louisiana young adults entering the workforce would be to consider manufacturing.

October 3 is National Manufacturing Day, which was started in 2012 to correct any misperceptions about the quality of manufacturing jobs and highlight to those in the workforce the number of highly trained, well compensated jobs available in this growing field.

Nationally, the average annual salary for manufacturing workers is more than $77,000 and 90 percent of manufacturing workers have medical benefits. These workers have the highest job tenure in the private sector and over 75 percent receive retirement contributions from their employers.

In Louisiana, more than 450,000 workers are employed in areas relevant to manufacturing, according to the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, with an additional 20,000 students every year graduating in our state with relevant manufacturing credentials. Despite this great start, we are nowhere near the level we need to reach in order to meet our surging manufacturing workforce demand.

Louisiana is on the verge of a manufacturing renaissance thanks to over $60 billion in announced new projects, innovation in energy production leading to low prices, industrial electric rates lower than the national average, and a growing community and technical college system focused on meeting regional workforce needs.

Today’s manufacturing jobs require skilled laborers that can succeed in the more technical, state-of-the-art facilities being built to meet global demand. This demand makes it more critical than ever before that we educate Louisiana students at a high level so they can fill these profitable jobs right here at home upon graduation.

Estimates show that by 2030, over 75 percent of the nation’s skilled baby boomers will have left the workforce. Even before that large exodus flows through our economy, a report by the National Association of Manufacturers tells us that nearly 70 percent of companies today report a shortage of available, qualified workers to current positions.

The opportunity for a great career in manufacturing is overwhelming and it is only going to get bigger and better in the years to come.

Not long ago, I visited a local welding training facility run by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) to chat with some high school students learning this high-demand trade. They had enrolled in career and technical courses at their high school, and their school district had an agreement with ABC to bring students to this state-of-the-art facility for training. When I asked these kids why they were there in the hot sun learning to weld, they didn’t hesitate to answer.

They said local employers had visited their school and told them of the great jobs available for those with proper training. The employers had told them exactly what level of training was needed, the starting salaries of the high-demand positions and the opportunities for advancement for those that wanted to work. That was all these kids needed to hear to know exactly what they wanted to do. They spoke excitedly about one day completing their training and finding a local manufacturing job that would help them live a quality life in the area they had always called home.

This program had connected the dots for them and they had a plan. Industry took the time to explain the opportunity, the educational system partnered with a high-quality local training provider, and the kids were doing the hard work to earn the certificate.

These kids are on their way. A great career in a booming industry sector is waiting for them and our local economy will benefit from their decision. We need this success story to be replicated countless times over throughout our state in order to meet our surging demand.

Closer to home, perhaps one, or all of my boys will follow a similar path as these students. If we as adults take the time to explain the benefits of a great manufacturing career, this type of success story can become the norm, rather than the exception, in Louisiana.

You never know, my youngest son may actually become that famous NFL wide receiver one day. Stranger things have happened. However, considering he is inheriting his athleticism from me, I may want to also remind him of the promising career opportunities available in manufacturing just in case that professional football path doesn’t quite pan out. Just in case.

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