A projected 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in the next decade, but less than half of those are expected to be filled due to the skills gap. However alarming the worker shortage, the notion that there is a widening skills gap ripping through the manufacturing industry isn’t something new.
With local and national government organizations looking to help build and enhance STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programing in schools, private companies impacted by a lack of labor are starting to take the issue into their own hands. Companies like Pferd Inc., manufacturers of abrasives, brushes and power tools, are making it a company-wide initiative to destigmatize the industry and show potential workers of all ages how they can practically apply what they learn in school to help grow and maintain an industry that positively impacts the nation’s economy.
At its career fair, representatives from Pferd’s engineering, quality, manufacturing and logistics departments talked to students about various manufacturing processes as well as career opportunities in the industry.
Be the spark
Recently, Pferd partnered with The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s “Be the Spark” program, which launched in the fall of 2014. Be the Spark connects businesses with students from the Milwaukee Public School system and gives them the opportunity to learn about a variety of different careers with educational tours of the businesses.
The team at Pferd saw this as an opportunity to welcome students into its facility for a closer look at manufacturing as a career option. “Many people have the perception that manufacturing is dirty and dungy,” said Peter Skaalen, vice president of operations at Pferd. “Seeing the plant in action really dispels this idea and spotlights how our industry uses state-of-the-art computerized equipment and technologically advanced machinery.”
By providing students direct views into the company’s plant, Pferd is helping them make a connection between school and work, something that can be difficult to do when sitting in a classroom.
“Students who don’t think they will ever use algebra or geometry again will see math and science throughout manufacturing and engineering,” Skaalen said.
In addition to partnering with local organizations, Pferd has also taken an even more direct approach to attracting future workers by hosting a career fair during its Manufacturing Day event. Held in October, Manufacturing Day, a nationwide celebration of the industry meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers, is open for every manufacturing company to participate.
In 2016, Pferd’s Manufacturing Day event was one of 2,806 held across the country. In addition to hosting a career fair, the company also offered students hands-on sessions to see Pferd products in action as well as tours of the manufacturing plant where its products are made.
“We took Manufacturing Day one step further and turned it into a career day, too,” said Maria Cartier, marketing manager at Pferd. “The Pferd team was excited to share the day with students and visitors and to show not only our manufacturing facility, but the various career opportunities within manufacturing.”
Be an intern
For those already interested in exploring a career within the industry, Pferd created an internship program that gives current college students the opportunity to put their classroom knowledge into practice.
The formalized internship program started three years ago and includes two rotations each year in engineering and quality. Additionally, the company has also given internship opportunities to those interested in marketing. Since embarking on its commitment to the next generation of manufacturers, Pferd has ushered more than 10 young individuals through its programs.
“We create an atmosphere within the company that allows interns to truly learn about the career they are studying and their prospective roles,” said Rick Woods, engineering manager at Pferd. “An internship allows them to gain experience and make results happen.”
With a commitment to inspire the next generation of manufacturers, more than 10 young individuals have participated in Pferd’s internship program.
The company integrates interns into actual functional parts of the business, from quality and safety to engineering and marketing, working side by side with individuals that have been in the field for years. Pferd interns tout the company’s intimate work environment for providing them a full view of the impact and value their work can make across the organization.
“[The] real life experience and hands-on learning gives me a much better grasp on what I learn in the classroom,” said Steven Snider, a Pferd intern studying mechanical engineering in college. “I now feel like I have a leg up on my career because I am starting out already knowing a lot more about design.”
With baby boomers fast approaching retirement, 2.7 million jobs will be up for grabs over the next decade. By taking a holistic, bottom-up approach to tackling the looming skills gap, companies like Pferd can influence and inspire the up and coming workforce, motivating them to see the manufacturing industry as a progressive, tech-driven career option.