October marks the time of year when manufacturers and educational institutions across the U.S. open their doors to students, educators, and the public to demonstrate the potential of modern manufacturing and foster interest in manufacturing careers. Started in 2012, Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) is an annual celebration that occurs on the first Friday in October that provides manufacturers an opportunity to correct public perception about what manufacturing is, and what it is not. This year’s MFG Day is October 6, 2017.

According to MFG Day organizers, changing the public’s perception of manufacturing is a first step in addressing one of the main challenges manufacturers face today—a gap in skilled labor. By directly connecting with job seekers and students, manufacturers can demonstrate that manufacturing has come a long way from their grandfather’s manufacturing. Long-held beliefs that manufacturing environments are dark, dangerous factories designed for low-skilled workers are dispelled when manufacturers are able to display today’s technologically advanced facilities that use automation, 3-D printing, robots, and screen technology.

The “face” of today’s manufacturing employee has changed as well. Workers are highly skilled and earn an annual average salary of more than $77,000. Ninety percent of modern manufacturing workers take home medical benefits.

Manufacturing Day ImpactMFG Day
In a survey conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, respondents indicated that MFG Day 2016 brought about the kind of results organizers hoped to achieve. Specifically, results showed 89 percent of students who attended were more aware of manufacturing jobs in their communities and 84 percent were more convinced that manufacturing provides careers that are both interesting and rewarding. In 2016 alone, over 2,800 MFG Day events drew in nearly 600,000 participants, 267,607 of which were students.

“Manufacturing Day is all about showing the community that this industry provides sustainable, well-paid jobs, with limitless opportunities for advancement,” said Manufacturing Institute Executive Director Jennifer McNelly. “The overwhelmingly positive results of this survey tell us that the American public is seeing the possibilities in manufacturing careers.”

Advanced Manufacturing in Iowa – Addressing the Skilled Labor Gap
The state of Iowa has proclaimed 2017 the “Year of Manufacturing.” Manufacturing is the largest industry in Iowa and accounts for the largest share of output (18.8% of Iowa’s GDP) and over 13% of Iowa’s total employment. In support of the Year of Manufacturing, the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA)Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) and Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) at Iowa State University have worked to develop an advanced manufacturing toolkit. The toolkit may be used to identify helpful state programs and services including links to a variety of programs to help manufacturers develop a world-class workforce for the future.

More than 4,000 manufacturing companies have located their operations inside central Iowa, employing more than 215,000 Iowans. Global leaders like CNH Industrial, Deere & Company, Hagie Manufacturing, Kinze Manufacturing and Vermeer all choose Iowa for their major production hubs. Iowa is a right-to work state with a talented labor force—nearly one-fourth of Iowa’s manufacturing workers have skills or experience in advanced manufacturing—making Iowa an attractive location for manufacturing companies to set up operations.

Iowans Supporting Manufacturing Day Efforts
Many of Iowa’s manufacturers are supporting the MFG Day movement by opening their doors to showcase opportunities in modern manufacturing. While it may be typical to hold the MFG Day celebration just one day out of the year, why do manufacturers in Iowa observe a month-long celebration? The answer might surprise you.

“In 2015, CIRAS set a goal to have some type of manufacturing day celebration in every county in Iowa – all 99 of them,” said CIRAS account manager Paul Dunnwald. “Our goal was to engage high school students, to get them out to the manufacturers to see their operations first-hand; however, we found that on the first Friday in October, one-fourth of the state was having Homecoming. So, it became obvious we had to open up the timeframe if we wanted to have students involved in the activities.”

Dunnwald said the original necessity of expanding the celebration timeline might have revolved around students, but in the end, holding a month-long celebration has also helped Iowa’s manufacturing companies work around their own schedules. “There are other forces outside of the company that make it difficult to have a manufacturing day event on that one particular day. It becomes easier on the manufacturers, students and economic developers to look at a more open choice of dates to hold an event,” he said.

The strategy seems to be working. Last year, more than 8,000 people attended 149 events in Iowa. As they have done in the past, CIRAS is again collaborating with a host of business and academic agencies to schedule at least one event in all 99 counties this October.

“We’re going to be focused on reaching out to young people, because they’re the next generation of manufacturing employees,” Dunnwald said. “In fact, CIRAS understands schools are facing budget cuts, and in order to help get the students to these events, we have set aside some money to help with things like paying for busing and other needs. Applicants will go through a pre-qualification process to determine need, but we hope to help out as many schools as we can with the funding that’s available.”

For Iowa companies that would like to host a MFG Day event in October or for other CIRAS inquiries, Dunnwald said to get in touch by emailing ciras_mfgday@iastate.edu.

A resource for manufacturers looking to join the effort of inspiring and growing the next generation of advanced manufacturing’s workforce is the MFG DAY website at mfgday.com.

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