Next generation industrial careers need high-tech skills

What do you think of when you imagine a shift change at a factory? Unless you work inside one, chances are you think of a whistle, punch cards and time clocks, and thousands of workers pouring out of the gates.

The assembly line of Henry Ford’s day still shapes public perception of manufacturing. But within the industry, vast changes in technology and global trade have transformed the way we design and produce things.

We live in the era of advanced manufacturing, where workers with a high level of technical skills are needed to run and maintain complex machines, robots, and computer systems. Far from the negative stereotypes of manufacturing, many of the new jobs in the industry are clean, steady, and offer good pay.

In fact, factory workers are some of the best paid workers in the country, says AJ Jorgenson of the Washington policy think-tank, The Manufacturing Institute. “Today’s manufacturing employees earn higher wages and receive more generous benefits than other working Americans.” Jorgenson notes that for 2013, with average wages and benefits totaling $33.93 per hour, “there is almost a 9 percent premium for working in manufacturing.”

Demand for skilled labor is skyrocketing. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, advanced manufacturing occupations grew by 99.4 percent between 2007 and 2012. Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI) projects that the American manufacturing sector will add 2.5 million new jobs by 2017.

“Some of our students find jobs while they’re still taking classes,” says Hawkeye Community College CNC machining instructor Jerome Amos. Equipped with more than three decades of advanced manufacturing experience, Amos teaches computer numeric control (CNC) at Hawkeye. “The CNC market has a big shortage of workers,” he explains. “There’s high demand because there is a skills gap.”


Out with the old, in with the new.

As the Baby Boom generation retires, demand for new manufacturing workers will only continue to grow. Currently, Baby Boomers make up about 20 percent of the overall workforce, and an even larger share of industrial jobs. “A lot of businesses are seeing older guys with CNC experience retiring out in their late 50s,” notes Amos, “and they don’t have individuals to replace them.”

However, public perception remains a struggle, says Rob Sentz, chief innovation officer at EMSI. Following the massive layoffs in the automobile industry, he says he’s seen parents advising their children against pursuing a career in manufacturing.

“This has contributed to what employers call a ‘skills gap,’ with too few technical workers filling too many jobs. Eighty percent of manufacturers report they cannot find individuals with the skills required,” The Manufacturing Institute’s Jorgenson notes.

“I see this as a huge opportunity for anyone going into this line of work. The wages are good,” says Amos. “I tell people all the time, working in manufacturing, you’ll be able to provide for your family and have a decent life.”

While the Department of Labor reports that manufacturing jobs have declined 35 percent since 1980, the industry has seen a steady resurgence in recent years as companies move operations back to the U.S. – a trend called “reshoring,” or “insourcing.”

If you can dream it, you can build it.

American manufacturing is leaner, and far more productive, than the factories of old. In fact, The Manufacturing Institute reports that in the two decades up to 2012, manufacturing output increased more than 83 percent.

Against an economic backdrop of the “rise of China,” it’s easy to forget that the U.S. continues to be far and away the largest overall producer of goods and services in the world. If the U.S. manufacturing sector were its own country all on its own, it would still rank as the eighth largest economy in the world – producing more than the entire gross domestic product of India, a well-known export giant!

Manufacturing in America is leaner, but smarter today. This means that the jobs that “return” to the U.S. are different than those that left in the past several decades. They are more technical, and 80 percent require some training, according to a 2012 study by Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute.

“Today’s manufacturing is about advanced technologies, state-of-the-art facilities, and fast-paced work environments,” states Jorgenson. “It’s where the thought becomes the thing.”

In other words, manufacturing capability has reached the point of “If you can dream it, you can build it.”

– Naomi Sheehan

In-Demand Skills

Advanced manufacturing skills are in high demand in the Cedar Valley. Hawkeye Community College offers short-term training options to learn the right skills for the right career.

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machining
CNC operators work in a variety of manufacturing environments and are trained to program, set up, and operate a computer numerical control (CNC) machine, inspect parts, perform production runs, and set up jobs.

CNC operators have knowledge and hands-on skills in blueprint reading, precision measurement and gauging, turning and milling processes, and mill and lathe programming and operation.

CNC programmers develop programs that control machines on the factory floor. They automate production, making the manufacturing process faster, safer, more precise, and more efficient.

Those who excel in this line of work are good with computers and solving problems. The vast majority of CNC programmers, according to a federal survey of the field, hold associate degrees or post-secondary certificates.

CNC programmers in Iowa earned median wages in 2014 of $21.06 an hour, or $45,210 per year. The Department of Labor projects much faster than average job growth (22 percent or higher) in this field through 2022.

For more information, call 319-296-4487 or visit www.hawkeyecollege.edu/cf/cnc-machining.

Industrial Maintenance

Industrial maintenance workers maintain, monitor, troubleshoot, and repair equipment used in the production of goods. Students will gain knowledge and hands-on skills in: direct and alternating current electricity, hydraulic and pneumatic fluid power, single- and three-phase motor controls, and programmable logic controllers.

Demand for industrial maintenance personnel is very high and has been identified as a green occupation. Environmentally friendly activities and technologies are likely to increase the need for industrial maintenance workers. Individuals may find entry-level employment as industrial mechanics, maintenance electricians, and fluid power technicians.

Individuals completing a non-credit certificate may earn $27,000-$35,000 per year. Industrial electrical maintenance personnel work overtime frequently and starting wages do not include overtime compensation.

For more information, call 319-296-4487 or visit www.hawkeyecollege.edu/cf/industrial-maintenance.

The Welding program prepares students to enter into the industry as beginning production, maintenance, or job shop welders. Students are trained using the latest techniques in the fabrication of materials by the welding process.

Welding continues to be one of the principle means of fabricating and repairing metal products. An independent certification laboratory evaluates each student’s performance on the American Welding Society Structural Steel Bend test for possible certification before completion.

Production Welding
August 10-October 13, 2015
Cedar Falls Center, 5330 Nordic Drive, Cedar Falls

Individuals completing the program enter the industry with average starting wages of $26,500-$34,500, many working overtime. Iowa Workforce Development forecasts more than 395 job openings each year for welders through 2020.

For more information call 319-296-4487 or visit www.hawkeyecollege.edu/cf/welding.