During a critical time in young adults’ lives — generally as they get to the end of their high school careers — they must make decisions about what they’re going to do for a living someday. Having some semblance of career goals can help them determine everything from where to apply for college to which tests to take for continuing education and what type of apprenticeships they should pursue.
It’s no secret that society is pushing young adults toward technology fields these days, largely at the expense of industries like manufacturing. In fact, some actually have an aversion to manufacturing careers! The problem stems from a series of antiquated stereotypes about what manufacturing is and what a career in this field represents.
More than just misconceptions, false beliefs are starting to negatively impact the manufacturing economy as a whole. A lack of interest from the next generation of workers is putting manufacturing in a difficult spot with negatives that include
- a lack of skilled laborers,
- poor political representation,
- problems competing in the global economy, and
- a slower pace of innovation.
Clearly, the narrative about manufacturing needs to change. Thankfully, real benefits can offset many of those misconceptions. Here’s a look at five of the biggest myths — and actual industry truths.
1. Manufacturing is labor intensive and dirty.
Feedback from a survey by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) cites an outdated or dirty work environment as one of the chief reasons parents advise their kids against manufacturing careers. Today’s manufacturing is extremely controlled and incredibly clean across many specific industries. Likewise, robotics and automation innovations have made manufacturing jobs easier, and workers are no longer sitting idly at assembly lines.
2. Skilled laborers have little room for advancement.
Manufacturing is often associated with drudgery and working tirelessly at the same repetitive task. Today’s manufacturing environment couldn’t be more different from this misconception. Skilled laborers are challenged to innovate, improve, and shape the future of manufacturing through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), automation, and machine learning.
3. Manufacturing is an unsafe industry.
With strict adherence to Operational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) mandates as well as safer practices in facilities, manufacturing safety has jumped forward by leaps and bounds from decades past. Today, worker safety comes before production goals, and Lean manufacturing practices have improved safety ratings at the facility level. In 2017 alone, OSHA performed just under 76,000 state- and federal-level safety inspections to ensure safe working environments.
4. Manufacturing is dull and repetitive.
Today’s manufacturing is quite the opposite of dull and repetitive. Instead, engineers and skilled laborers must rely heavily on critical thinking and problem solving to constantly address the challenges and expectations of a dynamic workplace. Automation handles repetitive tasks while workers focus on improving productivity and forecasting innovation in everything from product design to supply chain management. Every day in a manufacturing environment presents new and rewarding challenges.
5. Manufacturing is antiquated.
There’s nothing outdated or antiquated about the IIoT, automation, augmented reality (AR), machine learning, blockchain, or any of the other data-driven concepts changing the manufacturing landscape. Manufacturing is entering another renaissance, driven by all types of next-generation technologies. Manufacturing today isn’t what it was a decade ago and, at this rate, it’s sure to be quite different in the next decade, which means manufacturing jobs are bound to evolve with it.
How to change the narrative
While an abundant amount of proof exists to dispel common manufacturing myths, manufacturers still have a lot of work to do in changing others’ perceptions of their careers.
Perhaps the best option for reversing the narrative is to encourage students to explore STEM careers from a young age — before they’re faced with career decisions as young adults. Exposing kids to positive experiences with robotics, for example, may help spark interest in future manufacturing careers.
The same holds true for transient workers looking for more stable employment. Introducing them to opportunities for upward mobility in manufacturing facilities through the diverse range of fulfilling work options may help close the gap in demand for skilled workers.
Change is rapidly sweeping through the manufacturing industry, and it’s about time a change in perception followed.