Manufacturing jobs rise, more youth outreach sought

By BAILEY LASKE
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan manufacturing jobs are increasing, and it may be due in part to youth outreach.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing jobs in the state are reaching numbers that have not been seen since 2007. As of December, about 607,100 people are employed by Michigan manufacturiers, compared to the low of 432,900 in June 2009.

Although many factors contributed to the turnaround, some experts attribute this shift partly to a renewed emphasis on introducing young people to a variety of career paths.

A resolution pending in the Legislature urges the governor to add woodworking to vocational education and skilled trade opportunities identified by the state.

Although the resolution has yet to been adopted, it is part of the push for increased educational opportunities for those interested in skilled trades.

Amy Porter, a regional advisory officer for the Michigan Industrial and Technology Education Society, said “The skills that are taught in woodworking are not only valuable for general life skills but also translate well into the manufacturing industry.”

Chuck Hadden, the president of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said the industry is alive and well despite critics.

He supports a change in high school curricula that would give students more options to explore fields like manufacturing.

He wants students to understand that there are many ways to make a quality living.

Hadden suggested “pairing algebra 2 classes with welding” and “allowing students to learn a computer language in place of a foreign language if they want.”

Rep. Julie Calley, R-Portland, echoed Hadden’s emphasis on the importance of educating youth to help ensure that the steady numbers going into manufacturing continue.

“Manufacturing in my district is critical,” said Calley, whose district has major plants for metal stamping and laminate panels.

Calley said students need to understand all of their choices and that more eyes-on, hands-on learning is a way to do that.

She cited programs like Trades Day with My Career Quest as a way to educate youth about careers in their area.

The stigma surrounding vocational education is decreasing, Calley said. “Parents and students are really seeing that there are viable career options that don’t necessarily require a four-year institution.”

“I brought my son to Trades Day and he absolutely loved it. He was able to cut glass and build a city,” Calley said. She also praised Heartlands Institute of Technology in Ionia for allowing youth to work with aviation technology.

According to Porter, exposing students to programs like these is helpful because great opportunities exist in the skilled trades for those going into the workforce.

“With a whole generation retiring, there are a lot of open jobs that need to be filled for skilled trades and skilled workers,” said Porter.