Much has been written about the misconceptions that surround working within the manufacturing sector of our economy. Images of dirty factories and munitions work continue to persist despite efforts to convey more realistic images of today's manufacturing careers: These are high-tech, rewarding and challenging jobs that offer good pay with opportunities to advance.
We are committed to dispelling the myths and introduce Wisconsin workers – both the workforce of today and future generations – to opportunities in manufacturing, including careers they may not have considered in the past.
Since 2012, Governor Walker has proclaimed October as Manufacturing Month in Wisconsin in conjunction with Manufacturing Day, which is the first Friday in October and is celebrated nationally. Wisconsin manufacturing businesses, technical colleges, and other partners open their doors to students and members of the public. This may include tours, open houses, and other events designed to show the great career opportunities that are available to individuals in manufacturing.
As the month approaches, I would like to take the opportunity to address three common misconceptions surrounding Wisconsin's manufacturing sector.
Myth #1: Manufacturing jobs are unchallenging, and only for those who do not pursue education beyond high school.
The truth is, these jobs are for extremely talented and capable individuals, problem solvers who are full of creative and innovative ideas. For any number of current workers, it's not that the traditional, four-year college degree was not an option. In fact, a good number likely are 4-year college graduates. Rather, they chose a challenging and rewarding career in manufacturing.
What makes manufacturing appealing for many is that the path to rewarding careers can begin with a variety of training and education options. Rather than a four-year degree from a liberal arts college or university, an individual can earn a two-year degree from a technical college, or a certificate with short-term training.
Myth #2: Manufacturing facilities are dirty, dark and dangerous.
Visit a manufacturing company today and what you invariably will find are clean, safe, high-tech production facilities with workers operating sophisticated, computer controlled equipment. These are family-supporting jobs, positions that offer good pay, benefits, and the satisfaction that comes from work that is engaging, challenging, requiring a team approach to problem solving and success. And there are jobs available for individuals who either have necessary skills or are taking steps to gain them.
Myth #3: There is no future in Wisconsin's manufacturing industry.
Manufacturing in Wisconsin today is a robust and dynamic industry, driving the creation of family-supporting jobs, inspiring innovation, and advancing the state's economy.
Manufacturing contributes more than $53 billion to Wisconsin’s economic output. Over 16 percent of our state's workforce is directly employed in manufacturing, outpacing the national average of 9 percent. The average pay for a manufacturing worker in Wisconsin is $53,000 per year, more than $10,000 per year higher than the average pay for all Wisconsin private-sector workers.
Manufacturers have expressed their frustration with the skills gap. The major contributing factor is the loss of older, skilled workers as baby boomers retire. The need for skilled production workers is constant as manufacturers add jobs and try to fill vacancies.
Under Governor Walker's leadership, more than $100 million is being invested during the current state biennial budget in workforce training initiatives throughout the state and in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing.
As we fulfill our commitment to develop Wisconsin's workforce, we are urging parents, students and educators to visit a local manufacturing facility and see firsthand what today's manufacturing industry offers.
Visit https://www.wmc.org/programs/manufacturing-month/ for more details or to arrange a tour with a participating manufacturer or organization. Talk to workers and managers about what led them to their current careers and what a normal work day is like for them.
Manufacturing Month provides a forum to explore this industry and the opportunities it offers Wisconsin's workforce today and in the years to come.
-- Newson is secretary of the Department of Workforce Development.