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American Manufacturing: Growing Pains

About the Author

Petra Mitchell

President and CEO,
Catalyst Connection

  • 20+ years of experience in manufacturing operations and engineering, technology development and business development
  • Joined Catalyst Connection as a senior operations consultant, focusing on improvements in material flow, production planning and scheduling, facility layout, energy usage and setup reduction; named president in 2007
  • Member of the Regional Investors Council of the Allegheny Conference of Community and Economic Development and SMC Business Council; board member of the Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center Network, American Small Manufacturers Coalition and Pittsburgh Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
  • Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering, University of Dayton; Master of Science in engineering (concentration in manufacturing management), University of Cincinnati

American Manufacturing: Growing Pains

by Petra Mitchell
Catalyst Connection

The exciting story in manufacturing over the past couple of years is that American companies are in a stronger position than they have been in about two decades. Demand for American-made products is up, productivity is up, and many manufacturers are looking to expand production. This resurgence has put focus on a problem that has been building for for many years: the shortage of skilled workers to fill the needs of the industry.

This is a big problem that has many causes -- from the aging workforce to competition from other sectors like natural gas extraction -- but the primary concern is the lack of young people interested in manufacturing careers. The misconception about manufacturing jobs is that they are highly physical, in dirty locations, with little opportunity for advancement. We know this couldn't be further from the truth.

Catalyst Connection has developed the Explore the New Manufacturing program to engage manufacturers with young people to introduce career opportunities in today's manufacturing. One of our most successful engagements is Adventures in Technology, which invites a group of students to tour a manufacturing company, which then presents them with a real operational problem. The students spend six weeks in their classroom developing a solution and preparing a formal presentation that is made to members of the company's management team.

Programs like this involve young people in the world of manufacturing. We believe it is this direct engagement with manufacturers that will make the difference in attracting young people to careers in manufacturing. There are great opportunities across the country for manufacturers to engage with students, including internships, mentoring, plant tours, school competitions and career presentations.

The shortage of skilled workers will take time to resolve. It may, in fact, take several years for the perceptions we change today to strongly influence our national employment rankings, but the benefits will be long-lasting, positively influencing our manufacturing economy for generations to come.

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