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Brandon Blagg

Do you like computers and technology? Are you intrigued by the way things move and function? Are you creative? Do you like to work with your hands? Do you like to use your mind to solve problems? Do you want to earn a competitive wage and benefits? Do you want to avoid racking up thousands of dollars in student debt going to a 4-year university to earn a degree you might not even be able to benefit from? Look no further! A career in manufacturing may be exactly what you are looking for.

In the summer of 2006, just after graduating high school, I accidentally stumbled across a job opening at a local manufacturing company. I was a young adult that just wanted to earn enough money to pay my cell phone bill and car insurance. Like most young adults, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Little did I know that the position I had accidentally acquired at this local machine shop would open my eyes up to a whole new world, full of excitement and opportunity, that I never even knew existed – and ultimately lead me to where I am today – the Instructor of Manufacturing Technology at Waubonsee Community College.

I started off sweeping floors, emptying chip totes, wiping down equipment, and performing deburring operations on metal components; not exactly what I would call a dream job. My patience had paid off when a job opening became available for a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) lathe operator. A CNC lathe is a piece of advanced equipment that rotates a piece of metal at very high speeds while a stationary cutting tool removes material until the final shape is achieved. I was absolutely mind blown seeing this machine cut metal and perform operations I never thought possible! I was so intrigued and fascinated by this machine. Why had I not known that this kind of technology existed? I had never put any thought into how the products Americans use every day are manufactured and created. Manufacturing is what built America. Why aren’t America’s youth being educated on manufacturing and the rewarding career options related to it?

According to Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap. Nearly 80% of manufacturers report a moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly-skilled production positions. What does this mean? This means that individuals pursuing a manufacturing career have a vast amount of opportunity! Every week, I personally hear manufacturing companies state their concerns in not being able to find skilled, knowledgeable applicants to fill positions at their plants, and they are willing to provide a very competitive wage to fill these positions. Any individual that becomes skilled in manufacturing and is willing to continue to grow and learn, will be invaluable and highly sought after – and compensation will follow.

If you pay attention to the news, the student loan crisis America is currently facing is of no surprise to you. From a very young age, we are all pressured to follow this predetermined path that will ultimately lead us to success: get good grades, graduate high school, go to college, earn your degree, and you will be successful and set for life! Unfortunately, this is not the case for many people. Young adults are pressured by universities to simply apply for student loans to pay for their college experience. More and more often, you are seeing individuals rack up thousands of dollars in student debt to earn a degree, only to obtain low-paying jobs once they are out of college. Many manufacturing companies will pay for their employees’ education and training. Many machine shops will take an individual with little to no experience and put them through an apprenticeship program supervised and trained by a skilled machinist. Many community colleges, such as Waubonsee Community College, offer associates degrees and various certificates in machine tool technology for a fraction of the price as universities – and if you are currently employed by a manufacturer, they will most likely pay for your schooling! If years of schooling and going into thousands of dollars of student debt don’t sound appealing, consider a career in manufacturing!

When most people think of manufacturing, they imagine dangerous, dungeon-like atmospheres covered with dirt, oil, and other debris. They imagine an over-worked, sweaty, dirty, unfortunate, and obviously less-educated workforce (I mean, who would ever work in these conditions, right?). This may be the way things use to be in the late 19th century and early 20th century, but this is the 21st century – and things have changed. The modern machine shops and manufacturing plants of today are modern marvels. Not only do modern shops work with the latest technology and most sophisticated equipment, but they are surprisingly clean and safe environments to work in – especially if you are working in a shop related to the medical and food industries. The manufacturing employee of today must be very skilled and knowledgeable. The ever-changing and constant technological advancements being made require consistent and on-going training. America needs the best and brightest individuals to fill these important manufacturing positions.

I could write an entire book on the manufacturing industry and all the opportunities it has to offer to anyone considering a career in it. I am hoping this article will open the eyes of anyone who reads it and help dispel some of the negative attitudes and beliefs associated with manufacturing. Due to the skills-gap and desperately high demand to fill skilled manufacturing positions, there has never been a better time to get into the manufacturing industry. Parents, counselors, high school teachers, and mentors need to open students’ eyes to the world of manufacturing and let them know it exists, and that it can provide them with fulfilling comfortable lives.

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