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Op-Ed: Ten New Ways to View A Career in Manufacturing

New Jersey’s manufacturing and STEM industries are very much alive and well, with 11,000 companies, 360,000-plus employees, and $46 billion in output

John W. Kennedy

The manufacturing and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) industries are not often viewed as viable sectors in New Jersey, but the over 11,000 manufacturing and STEM-related companies, their 360,000-plus employees, and their $46 billion in manufacturing output alone tends to differ with that general assessment.

The fact is that the United States and New Jersey in particular remain technical engines for our respective economies. That allows business owners to create and retain businesses and high-quality employees, which help support our positive education system, maintain our standard of living, and provide an above-average per capita income.

However, there are issues to be addressed, as the hold on this critical industry is tenuous. Here are 10 new ways to view a career in manufacturing:

1. Thriving

The manufacturing industry is not failing. It never has been. There will always be a place for this sector of business. It’s simple: There are more people in the world, needing more things, and someone has to make them. Why not us? The United States is currently No. 2 in regard to manufacturing and projected to be back at No. 1 within two years. Consider this coupled with our consistent high rankings in regard to quality and you can stop questioning the validity of this sector and what it means to us all: a minimum of four additional jobs created for everyone in manufacturing.

2. Attainable with or without a college degree

A college education is not required for being successful in life. All education is important, and while manufacturing and STEM firms do need a variety of college graduates, they also need those that have been trained in the industrial arts. The many machinists and welders I have known in my professional life have taught me that having the knowledgebase of an engineer or a metallurgist does not mean one has a diploma. We have to understand that a noncollege career path does not mean one is uneducated. We need all components — degreed and otherwise.

3. Cutting edge and in demand

Visit one of New Jersey’s 21 excellent vocational schools (now referred to as career/technical education schools) and you will find cutting-edge curriculums and a waiting list. CTE schools provide pathways, but are not often viewed that way. What’s your perception of a CTE student? If it is of a person who could not make it in regular classes, then you’re way off the mark.

4. Apprentice-appreciative

Apprenticeships are like internships, but at much higher levels. It takes seven years for a welder to achieve the proper training and experience to tackle all that is required of him/her. How does that compare with other programs? Most apprenticeships require a minimum of three years of study and on-the-job training. It’s not an easy path to success, but well worth it.

5. Rewarding for engineers

More engineers are needed in the workforce, and not just those in information technology. Computers are everywhere, and that makes electronics, controls, and IT engineering more important than ever. However, other disciplines are needed as well. Consider mechanical, industrial, electrical, chemical, and civil/structural engineering, to name just a few areas that are lacking in our country and our state. All are rewarding. All are needed.

6. Community friendly

Most manufacturers have existed for many years in their locations, and are generally considered to be anchors for good jobs and higher wages. Most are also very clean and respectful of their own facilities and of the environment. This is where they live, too.

7. Impactful as small businesses

Did you know that over 75 percent of manufacturers in New Jersey and in the United States consist of 30 employees or fewer? These are not large firms looking to run over and around the rules. These are local companies that were created and grew in our state.

8. Innovative

Innovation is not just about the new iPhone or an updated app, but it is how we advanced on all levels and has been ongoing forever. No one woke up and decided to create the computer: It was an industrial evolution. By the way, three-quarters of all private-sector R&D in this country is performed by manufacturers.

9. Myth busting

Facts help dissolve myths. Here are some truths about manufacturing — derived from data from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations/International Labor Organization:

  • The most recent data (2014) shows that manufacturers contributed $2.25 trillion to the U.S. economy (12 percent) — a figure that has risen steadily since 2009.

  • For every $1 dollar spent in manufacturing, another $1.89 is added to the U.S. economy, which is the highest multiplier-effect of any economic sector.

  • Manufacturing supports approximately 12.5 million private-sector jobs; 8.5 percent of those are directly employed by manufacturing, and each manufacturing job supports (at least) four others.

  • The average U.S. manufacturing worker makes $82,023 annually ($92,046 in New Jersey); the average for all other industries is $64,609 (as of 2016).

  • U.S. manufacturers are the most productive in the world, and also No.1 in quality.

  • Taken alone, manufacturing in the United States would be the ninth-largest economy in the world.

10. Interactive

New Jersey manufacturers have formed a supportive community that brings together manufacturers, students, supporters, legislators, and industry experts in a collective effort to improve public perceptions of manufacturing and raise awareness of the opportunities. You are invited to experience this firsthand and attend NJMEP’s National Manufacturing Day on October 5 from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Somerset Marigold.

John W. Kennedy is CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP), a private, not–for-profit organization that improves the profitability and competitiveness of the state’s manufacturers.

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