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Manufacturing Career Path Suffers Education Skills Gap


How and why the USA no longer has a viable manufacturing career path for its young.

Commentary, about what happened to the USA's manufacturing industry to make it a less viable career path for students:

manufacturing career path

Manufacturing Careers are a lot different nowdays.


Playing devil's advocate to spark controversy and conversation, first lets look at what the manufacturing career path used to be as its part of the ‘American Dream’. So our young would look at the various trades, the pay, work environments, education availability mostly, to weigh out what they thought they may enjoy and plan on being an expert (master) at. In making their decision, education availability was one of the biggest deciding factors. A student may have wanted to be an engineer, but their parents couldn’t afford college for them, so they went to less expensive vocational school. As the student where in their secondary school (vo-tech or college) , they would further focus the career goals based on newfound insight to the field of their choice.


Those in vocational technical (Vo-Tech) schools may have learn that a Union job pays better, had better working conditions, and security. So they get On the Job training (OJT), ongoing annual education, and become a licensed electrician, machinist, millwright, welder etc. Those whose parents could afford college for them went on to master in one specific discipline too, for the same basic reasons of better pay, working conditions and job security. Unfortunately there were some students whose parents could not afford vo-Tech or College and those students would go into the service industry. (restaurants, retail, general laborer like manufacturing production line, etc.)


The career path for students in service industry without a secondary education is unfortunate because the road to work and save for that secondary education and better pay (living standard) was and is a long one. But there still is a career path, getting promoted to supervisors and sometimes via the OJT, manager. Few make it back to school to pursue their earlier dreams, as the pay scale for service industry was barely above cost of living (especially once the student started their own family).


But that was the past, the 70s, this is now 2013. Over the decades company greed has changed the student’s environment and choices for the worse, a lot worse. Education cost had become so high while wages stayed stagnant over all these years as the cost of living continued to climb. That resulted in high school career counselors directing our students more to college and less (or leaving out completely)   the vocational trades as a career choice. The word on the street was, “you cannot make a decent living without a college degree”.


Part of this came about by big company money fighting to pay workers less (less labor cost) so their stock holders and management could make more. That meant fighting unions too, because unions fought for workers right to fair wages that match the cost of living. (But the unions are not totally innocent in the destruction of career opportunities for our young. Greed affected them too, asking for too high of a salary and benefits that where greater than what the cost of living would warrant, and there was corruption in some.) 

Then the norm evolved to “you cannot support a family on just one job”. So then the population’s focus was no longer on how to get more money for school/career advancement, it was how to get more money to survive, feed the family, buy a house. But the runaway of capitalism eating away at the American dream did not stop there.


In the last decade leading of to the great recession, reducing labor cost while increasing management and stockholder’s revenue became the industry norm. During this period the party of big business control the government too, so where normally the balance would be restored by government to protect the USA’s sustainability and citizens (middle class), instead the gap between middle class and upper became larger. The citizens where sold on the political party’s trickledown theory.  Ways to climb up the ladder of success became fewer. After decades, more citizens are now starting pay attention to the operative word of that theory… ‘Trickle’. A trickle is not enough to live on, not enough for most to realize the original American dream.


Also during this period companies combined more job responsibility to further reduce labor cost. Just as the electrician, mechanic, machinist and other job titles where combined into one employee’s job called a maintenance mechanic (<< Click to read more about this), so employers could get by with less employees in each field, the strategy spread to college engineering disciplines too. The industry invented yet another job title… “Mechatronics Engineer” (or Technician). So instead of hiring a mechanical engineer, and an electrical engineer, and a electronics engineer and a software engineer, a company could combine all the specialties in to one employee, a Mechatronics Engineer. (<< Click to read more about this.)


Even the Community colleges and universities made more because these combining of work disciplines required students to get more years of schooling to qualify. This makes education even further out of reach for more people, or risk owing more in school loans than they do a house. Yet another financial imbalance when you consider a fair wage or even the possibility a job in that profession may not be available where student is located and/or when they graduate. So a viable career path is not available for most Americans.


The solution to correct these years of misdirection and restore the American Dream (in the manufacturing industry anyway), is for our government to develop National y recognized job title and descriptions and set minimum wages for those manufacturing job titles. Just like the Unions did for electricians, millwrights and machinist. That way the employer, employee and schools are all on the same page. One of the most historical achievements of the USA to restore balance and keep corporate greed in check was to establish a National Minimum Wage. For the 21st century with advanced manufacturing, the country needs a National Skilled Job Minimum Wage.


PS: If you know someone who is looking for a job and career in manufacturing, share with them the USAJobs Manufacturing job search engine. ( )


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Topics: manufacturing careers , manufacturing jobs, manufacturing engineer job description, engineer careers, engineer careers salary, education skills gap