The interest gap

factory interior as industrial background

The state of manufacturing in the United States continues to rise and, as the last of the Baby Boomers prepare for retirement, many manufacturers are facing a skills gap. Many factors contribute to this issue; one fundamental rationale for its growth is a general disinterest among younger generations (Millennials) in the industry.

According to the Economics Public Institute, 52 percent of surveyed teenagers said they had no interest in manufacturing. Another study, by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, reported that Generation Y respondents ranked manufacturing last among seven domestic industries in terms of their career choice — with 53 percent saying perceptions of the industry make it hard to recommend jobs.


The solution to close the skills gap and generate more interest in engineering and manufacturing requires involvement from everyone: the government, educators, parents and students. The public and private sectors must align with academia on tactical strategies that focus on technical communication, math, teamwork and leadership skills.

Dietmar Goellner, president and CEO of Advanced Machine & Engineering, believes that favorable proposals from local and regional governments are a critical component to the solution. Children who live below the poverty line can benefit from grants and scholarships for community or vocational college opportunities.

Some nonprofit organizations, such as Skills USA and Alignment Rockford, partner with students, teachers and industry leaders to provide tactical solutions that raise student achieve – ment in areas of trade, technical or skilled-service occupations.

Matthew DeMarco of Staff Management reports how regional manufacturers, governments, nonprofits and educators are working together to develop branded campaigns that connect schools with local industries. Manufacturers have an opportunity to develop training programs, provide technical advice for school curriculum and/or provide robust apprenticeships that help students learn about and join established talent pipelines.

Other manufacturers are developing outreach programs for community and technical schools at no cost so they can get their names in front of students who could potentially become customers or employees.

What sort of things should manufacturers consider if they want to fight the growing interest gap?

+ In what ways can they engage younger generations though technology that encourages them to be creative?
+ How can they encourage students to connect to the field of manufacturing and to products that are in their everyday lives?
+ How can they get younger generations to communicate with local manufacturing thought leaders and get them access to their facilities?

One option is to get involved with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics, an international group founded by Dean Kamen in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. It has more than 400,000 members and 90,000 mentors and immediately provides the skills that today’s manufacturers need. Through FIRST, students are encouraged to pursue education and careers in STEM-related fields, become leaders and innovators, and enhance their 21st-century work-life skills.

Another option is participating in the nationwide MFG DAY, or Manufacturing Day, on the first Friday of October. The celebration of modern manufacturing, created in 2012 by Founding Partner Fabricators and Manufacturers Association International, was designed to amplify the voice of individual manufacturers and coordinate a chorus of manufacturers with common concerns and challenges.

Companies invite students, teachers and members of their surrounding communities to their facilities to educate them on careers in the industry. MFG DAY exposes students to modern manufacturing to pique their interest and entice them to follow a career path that involves the trade.

The battle to close the skills and interest gaps won’t be a quick one. It will require an ongoing collaborative effort from the public, private and academic sectors that includes compelling stories from industry influencers and manufacturing leaders, technological outreach and community engagement.