The Lima News, Ohio, David Trinko column
Feb 23, 2013 (The Lima News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The hardest part of turning the economy around might be convincing grandma she's wrong.
"Grandma said you had to have four-year degree to get a good job," said Judy Cowan, of the Ohio Energy and Advanced Manufacturing Center in Lima. "That's not necessarily the case anymore."
As the local economy continues its rebound, factory employers face the difficult task of convincing people what they think they know about factory work has been wrong for some time. And it seemed to be the biggest stumbling block Tuesday for manufacturers during a discussion, "Manufacturing Ohio's Future," at Rhodes State College.
Employer after employer expressed their frustration with people saying they need and want jobs -- as evidenced by the unemployment rate -- while there's shortage of candidates with the basic math and reasoning skills to flourish in today's factory.
They're challenging jobs in a fast-paced environment. They require plenty of intelligence to succeed. They pay quite handsomely. Yet few people with the right skills seem to want them, in part because their role models steer them away from manufacturing.
"Parents just don't believe manufacturing is a career pathway," said Tony Iriti, of Findlay-Hancock County Economic Development. "That idea has to be changed. But it can't be changed after they already graduated from high school."
When I think of a factory, I think of dishwasher factory where I worked summers when I was in college. It was hot, dirty work there, and I returned from work physically exhausted most days. While it built character in me, I'm not sure I want it for my own children.
But that's antiquated knowledge of factory work, said Shannon Shartell, of Pro-Tec Coating Company in Leipsic. Her company handles steel, but the people coming in for the 80 new jobs there aren't seeing what they expected.
"People think steel and think it's dirty. They come in our facility, which is very clean," Shartell said. "We get those shocked expressions of 'wow.'"
I was one of those shocked expressions when I toured Pro-Tec's plant a few years ago. It's certainly not my father's factory. Frankly, that steel plant is cleaner than my desk most of the time.
It's a challenge for us all to reopen our minds to manufacturing jobs. They're making a comeback. While the nation went through its years of outsourcing jobs out of the country, people are learning you can't beat the U.S. when it comes to innovation.
There's plenty of room for that, especially on the factory floor, said Ralf Bronnenmeier, chief executive officer at Grob in Bluffton.
"For me, an electrical engineer writing the software is not worth more than an applications engineer, who can put in the machine and bring it to life," Bronnenmeier said. "He'll actually get paid more than the software engineer in some cases."
The trick is tapping into what you're good at doing. If you like to work with your hands, life on a factory floor might be for you.
Again, the challenge is convincing the role models to be open-minded first.
"We make a lot of presentations to students," said Daniel Schoch, of Minster Machines. "It's getting them to understand manufacturing is cool. But it's also convincing their parents and teachers and aunts and uncles it is cool. They just need to see that it is."
And it might even mean telling grandma she's wrong: You can get a great job at a factorywithout a four-year college degree.
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