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Letter: Changing labor market demands investment in manufacturing talent
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STEM students from Flowery Branch High School tour PPG paint manufacturing facility Tuesday morning in Oakwood. The science, technology, engineering and math students also met with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, as part of National Manufacturing Day. - photo by Scott Rogers

American manufacturing is facing an unprecedented challenge. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2035 retirement-age Americans will outnumber those under the age of 18. As reported by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, labor shortages caused by an aging population could lead to 2.4 million unfilled jobs in manufacturing. For manufacturers, the time to act is now to open the door to future pipelines of talent. 

A recent National Association of Manufacturers report states that the manufacturing workforce is older and aging faster than the overall U.S. labor force. Through the NAM survey, a majority of industry respondents indicated that workers age 55 and older comprise at least 20% of their workforce, creating concern of a potential labor shortage as workers retire. The important and valued skills and knowledge held by tenured workers are at risk. Investing in the next generation of talent is urgent. 

According to the NAM report, younger workers often falsely perceive manufacturing work as dangerous or dated. Paired with a declining focus on vocational education and apprenticeships, manufacturing career paths are being overlooked. 

This potential impact ignites U.S. manufacturers like PPG to spark change. At PPG, our employees are a driving force to change the way our society views careers in the manufacturing industry. On and off of the production floor, our manufacturing employees are creating technology-driven, functional coatings and unique paints that help reduce pollution, help self-driving cars see and even protect a puppy’s paw from a sizzling sidewalk. 

To create a prosperous workforce pipeline, investment in future manufacturing candidates is crucial. The NAM report found that one of the best ways to attract the next generation of workforce and transfer institutional knowledge is mentorship and apprenticeship programs. As part of the NAM survey, all companies interviewed noted that beyond transferring technical knowledge, mentorship programs have the added benefit of teaching new employees the soft skills and professional behaviors needed to be responsible workers. 

We must also showcase the vast and expanding career opportunities the sector has to offer. Through participation in National Manufacturing Day each October, companies like PPG open their doors to the public giving students and educators a realistic and transparent look into the world of modern manufacturing. 

PPG also gives students from top-tier U.S. universities the opportunity to build professional skills and engage with our businesses’ leaders through the PPG Primers program. We offer participants an internship or co-op track that involves rotations within our various businesses, often leading to full time positions. 

As we recognize the important contributions of manufacturers this October, we must recognize manufacturers’ responsibility to invest in the next-generation workforce that is required to help the U.S. manufacturing sector thrive.

Alex George

PPG plant manager, Oakwood