It Ain't Easy

Careers in manufacturing bring hardships, rewards.


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The job description in Matt Kirchner's "Never Finished" column this month ("Help Wanted,")
pretty much sums up the hardships associated with trying to make a career in finishing—or, I would argue, in manufacturing in general.

"Position Description: Some unbelievably frustrating days—when your team members call in sick, a piece of equipment goes down, or when a customer complains—on which you will be ready to call it quits," Matt writes. "But you won't, because you're tougher than that. And several years down the road you will look back on these occasions in awe of what you learned going through them and how much stronger they made you."

The column goes on to lay out both the down sides and the rewards associated with a career in finishing. "It's an awesome opportunity, really. The kind of position I would have killed for a year or two out of college. A position that requires and delivers a combination of hard work, guts, dedication, pride, accomplishment, contentment, satisfaction, discovery, character and long-term financial reward.

"It's surprising how few people are genuinely interested in the job," Matt concludes.

That last sentence may be the only part of the column with which I take exception. It's no surprise that people are not interested in manufacturing-related careers these days, given our celebrity-oriented, get-rich-quick culture and the lack of emphasis on manufacturing as a viable career path in our schools.

Unfortunately, a recent poll of teens—the potential shop workers and managers of tomorrow—bears out that viewpoint.

Conducted in September, the Internet-based survey of 500 teens age 13 to 17 shows a majority (52%) have little or no interest in a manufacturing career and another 21% are ambivalent. When asked why, 61% said they seek a professional career, far surpassing other issues such as pay (17%), career growth (15%) and physical work (14%).

The numbers reflect the sad reality that manufacturing is generally not even discussed as a possible career by educators. More often, factory work is even maligned in pop culture and the media as mere drudgery or, worse, as bad for the health of workers and the environment.

Industry's failure to generate interest among young people is ironic considering that factory jobs in the future will require workers to operate advanced equipment and apply the kind of high-tech skills that seem to come as second nature to many members of the video game generation. It's a problem that sooner or later is going to have to be addressed.