Like many of our nation's citizens, a career in manufacturing made it possible for me to live the American Dream. When I was 17, I came to the United States to get my education. Thanks to wonderful mentors of my alma mater Fairfield University, I not only received a great education; I found encouragement and support to embark on a career in manufacturing. That career provided a path to lifelong learning and the economic freedom of a middle-class livelihood for my family.
Today, the quintessential dream of American society wanes in the shadow of one colossal untruth: that there are no jobs. The myths and misperceptions that feed the "no jobs" mindset center on manufacturing, where ironically, there are in fact many jobs—more than a half-million today—with still more to come over the next decade as 2.7 million Baby Boomers prepare to retire from our industry.
The last time I wrote a column in this magazine, I shared the misguided view Americans have about manufacturing, gleaned from a national study we conducted to learn why young people lack interest in the sector. Only 11 percent believe it is growing, and more than two-thirds think the problem is a lack of jobs, rather than the lack of skilled talent to fill the jobs.
Over 70 percent of Americans said they wouldn't recommend manufacturing as a career for their children, and we know it isn't even presented as an option in most of our nation's high schools. Why? We have a perception problem. Americans see manufacturing in "4D": dark, dirty, dangerous and dull. Ask anyone who doesn't already work in manufacturing to describe the picture in their head, and they'll prove my point.
It's time people know the truth: Not only are there jobs; there are high-tech, high-paying, safe, appealing jobs in industry that provide an entry ticket to lifelong careers and paid education after high school! Companies like Kennametal pay for training and education, so employees can go as far as their interests take them. Some of our company's best PhDs started as technicians on the shop floor.
We can forever change the picture of manufacturing in America for the better, if we are willing to rebrand ourselves and open our doors to young people, parents and faculty. We have done this at Kennametal with our Young Engineers Program, and I can tell you that among hundreds of students, parents and teachers we've reached, we have a new understanding.
Changing the national mindset proves more difficult. Yet if we know "manufacturing" is a dirty word to the majority of Americans, why not consider a new name that defines today's reality? A better label is industrial technology. Positioned as the "new IT," industrial technology is digitally-driven, smart production. It is the future of America, ripe with opportunities for a new generation digital-savvy talent.
We in industry must be the change, the catalyst partnering with high schools, career centers, technical institutions and community colleges to match young people with training and education that we need and they can put to work immediately, while earning great pay ($40,000 and up with benefits) and stackable credentials to apply toward further education, from associates' degrees to PhDs.
We also must advocate for policy change, to coordinate and leverage federal, state and interagency workforce programs that are accountable for results; to overhaul an education system that blindly promotes the conventional four-year college path, when it is driving more kids to arts and sciences programs than we have careers to support them. We cannot sustain a system that leaves jobless graduates (and parents) holding a ballooning bag of college-loan debts for which they don't have means to repay.
This is our call to action, to reshape America's future with leadership in industrial technology, lifelong learning and innovation careers—the kind upon which this nation's greatest promise is built.
Carlos Cardoso serves as chairman of the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI). He is on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and its Workforce Task Force, as well as the U.S. Manufacturing Council, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Workforce Development and Manufacturing Perceptions.