Chuck Sweeny: Manufacturers, schools must woo next generation
As I often say to people, countries that don’t manufacture become colonies of those that do. President Obama’s trip last week to China illustrates how true that is becoming.
The president’s trip was light on the usual lectures in democracy. This time it was China’s turn to lecture us, specifically on the need to get our fiscal house in order by reducing our astounding national debt.
China, which manufacturers most of our consumer goods, is worried, because to keep America a going concern, they’ve had to buy about $1 trillion of our debt.
As we learned last year, flipping homes over and over to ramp up the price is not wealth creation, and exotic financial instruments that even Alan Greenspan can’t understand are not “products.”
Restoring our manufacturing economy after 30 years of Wall Street and Washington working overtime to destroy it will be difficult because too few of our national and state leaders realize how crucial it is to our survival as a free nation.
Worse, our children don’t have a clue about manufacturing, and don’t see it as a possible career. According to a new poll by Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, “52 percent of 500 teens responding have little or no interest in a manufacturing career, and another 21 percent are ambivalent.”
The poll, published in Industry Week, said “61 percent of teens have never visited or toured a factory or other manufacturing facility. Only 28 percent have taken an industrial arts or shop class, yet 58 percent have completed a home economics course; 27 percent spend no time during the week working with their hands on projects such as woodworking or models, 30 percent less than one hour and just 26 percent one to two hours.”
There’s also a disconnect between children and their parents, Industry Week says. A national poll of 1,000 adults, sponsored by The Foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, “shows that parents actually would support having a young factory worker in their family. More than half, 56 percent, would recommend their child pursue a career in manufacturing or another kind of industrial trade.”
This information is especially important for the Rock River Valley, still a center of manufacturing with hundreds of firms, most of them small shops. Those buildings are staffed largely by gray hairs, and business owners are having a hard time finding young people qualified to take over for the retiring workers.
Children need to begin finding out about the world of manufacturing when they’re in middle and high school. Manufacturers and school districts should work together to open lines of communication, sponsor tours and make sure counselors understand the many career possibilities in today’s manufacturing companies.
A few years ago, when Dennis Thompson was Rockford’s school superintendent, manufacturers sponsored tours for school teachers and administrators to acquaint them with just what careers can be had in the manufacturing economy that exists right here.
The tours were successful, says Bob Trojan, who heads Rockford Linear Actuation, a small manufacturing company a block from the school district headquarters. He was one of the company owners who instigated the shop visits.
We need to get those tours going again. This time, take some students along, too.
Rockford Register Star Senior Editor Chuck Sweeny can be reached at (815) 987-1366 or email@example.com.