How many students seriously consider a career in the manufacturing industry? How does a manufacturing career path compare to the opportunities a college education provides? What about the pandemic—is now the time to consider this type of work? These and many other questions are likely to come up in a discussion about manufacturing careers.
In this post, we’ll look at what students expect regarding education and career and start tackling some common objections to a career in this field.
It turns out the field of manufacturing has a lot more to offer than many people might expect.
Evaluating Our Expectations
According to an Axios poll in August of 2020, 22% of then-current college students planned to sit out of college that fall semester, and possibly the entire year. If their plans didn’t change, that’s more than one-fifth of US college students sitting out. Some students who always expected to be college-bound are now considering gap years.
Amid the many societal questions raised during the pandemic, one has been, “Just how useful is a college degree?” College or university education has long served as a rite of passage into adulthood, and many parents see higher education as a necessity for their children’s lifelong stability and success. But as student-loan debt increases and more of the university experience takes place online rather than in person (sometimes without a commensurate decrease in tuition costs), many students and parents are questioning whether the college experience adds enough life value to be worth the cost.
These issues open the door to the possibility that fewer students will see higher education as THE necessary next step after high school, instead considering other opportunities, such as manufacturing. In that case, what happens if a student decides not to go to college? To say that going against the cultural flow can be difficult is an understatement, to be sure. But high-school students who have an interest in the field but aren’t sure about their interest in a bachelor's degree would do well to consider a manufacturing career.
What Makes Success?
The main factor that leads parents to encourage their children to go to college is the hope for a better quality of life, typically evidenced in (1) better working conditions and (2) better pay. But are those hopes guaranteed by a university education? And are they denied by the manufacturing industry?
In an article for South Carolina Manufacturing, Paul Kumler, president of KTM Solutions, notes that in his home state of Louisiana some parents saw college as the only acceptable option for their children in part because they had “lost their manufacturing jobs as industries pulled out for cheaper labor. Not to mention, there was the memory of the hot/sweaty/dirty work in manufacturing. Not something any parent would want their children to pursue.”
But he goes on to point out that working conditions have changed significantly in the last several decades, with the advent and increased prevalence of climate-controlled facilities, as well as with other technological advances. As he puts it, “in the industries KTM Solutions supports, the machines used to manufacture parts and assemblies are technical and require skilled operators to run them. Advanced education is required for many of these jobs, but usually not from a four-year college.” These jobs take skill and expertise but offer a chance to acquire those skills in less time and at less cost to the trainee.
More to Come . . .
Next time, in Part 2, we’ll look at how the COVID-19 pandemic affected jobs in the manufacturing industry as we dive into the other common objection to manufacturing careers: Pay.