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The Journal Gazette

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Thursday, October 05, 2017 1:00 am

Editorial

Manufacturing employees

Blue-collar job opportunities are abundant

To learn more

A program on Ivy Tech Fort Wayne's North Campus will celebrate National Manufacturing Day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.

The program at the Steel Dynamics, Inc., Keith E. Busse Technology Center, 3701 Dean Drive, will feature tours of the center and information from local manufacturers and the college.

For more information about training and employment opportunities for students, go to MadeByMe.me.

For information about building-trade apprenticeship programs, go to neibt.org.

Or go to Northeast Indiana Works' main site at neinworks.org.

National Manufacturing Day is Friday, which doesn't usually send ripples of excitement through northeast Indiana. But maybe it should. 

Manufacturing is big here. Musical instruments, auto parts, RVs, medical devices – the list of things made in this area is long and diverse. Those products affect the lives of people here, and elsewhere, in many ways. But we should be clear, too, about the crucial role these industries play in the collective future of our communities and the personal futures of many of the families who live here. 

“Manufacturing is the engine that drives the economy,” Rick Farrant, director of communications for Northeast Indiana Works, observed in an interview Wednesday. “It did help, in a significant way, pull us out of the recession.

“In our region,” he continued, “there are almost 85,000 people in manufacturing. It's the No. 1 industrial employer in northeast Indiana. Health care is a distant second, with about 52,000 employees.”

Moreover, the manufacturing industry is expanding – faster than the jobs can be filled. The employee base of 84,568 is expected to grow by 5 percent – 4,592 more employees – by 2027.  That will mean a total of 89,160 jobs, according to Northeast Indiana Works' calculations.

But even that doesn't tell the whole story of the job opportunities in manufacturing here over the next few years. “Right now,” Farrant said, “19,346 workers – 23 percent of the workforce – is 55 or older. Maybe all of those people are not going to retire, but many of them will.

“Add that to the 4,592, you get the number 23,938 – which means that almost 24,000 people will have to be hired in manufacturing in the next decade.” Even now, Farrant said, there are “hundreds, maybe a couple of thousand, jobs that can't be filled right now.” 

“We need to drop the image that manufacturing is a dirty, dark occupation of yesteryear,” he said. “Instead, it's generally a clean, high-tech occupation with good wages and opportunity for advancement.”

Manufacturing employees earn an annual average of $65,328 in wages and benefits – the highest of the top 10 industries in northeast Indiana by number of employees.

And certification for many of those jobs can be obtained in less than a year or while a potential employee is still in high school.

Young adults also have the option of building-trade apprenticeships, many of which teach skills such as welding that could lead to a job in either manufacturing or construction.

Companies recognize their future depends to a large degree on persuading more young people in Indiana to take a serious look at what they have to offer.

The annual survey of Indiana manufacturers released Wednesday by Katz, Sapper & Miller says even the rapid pace of automation in many industries won't suffice.

“How do you continue to grow and prosper in today's new era of rapid technological advancement while your skilled workforce pool is continually shrinking? ... (A)utomation alone won't be enough to sustain the growth in the industry,” the report says.

The key is getting the word out about what such jobs have to offer, which is why National Manufacturing Day is worth a nod from all of us. 

“We need to get young people interested in manufacturing careers,” Farrant said. “All the money in the world isn't going to help if you don't have candidates for training.”