Today is Manufacturing Day, a national celebration of the vital role our nation’s manufacturers play in designing and making the products that keep the world moving and the millions of Americans who have a career in this field. And, in Indiana, we can confidently assert we make and move things better than any other state in the nation.

A quarter of our economic output is based in manufacturing, 80 percent of recreational vehicles and 1.3 million cars and trucks are manufactured here annually, and nearly 600,000 Hoosiers work in this industry.

What’s more, technology advancements – from automation to artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) – continue to usher in a new Industrial Revolution and the skills now required for advanced manufacturing careers are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

We have lots to celebrate on Manufacturing Day. I am proud to say that many companies are opening their doors to students and parents around the state today and throughout the month of October to debunk long-held misconceptions about manufacturing and elevate advanced manufacturing careers for what they are today: the innovative, meaningful and dynamic jobs of the future.

But today is also a day to reckon with the fact that thousands of positions are going unfilled in the advanced manufacturing sector and that the state is on the verge of seeing a mass exodus from this workforce. In the next few years, an anticipated 100,000 people will reach retirement age, and another 25,000 already have worked past age 65 and are expected to retire soon.

At the same time, some 30 percent of Indiana young people leave high school without a job, college enrollment, military enlistment or anything else that puts them on a career path. Thousands more drop out of college after one year. Making matters worse, when these young people do enter the workforce, they do so with little experience and few workplace skills, a problem that has increased in recent years: In 2018, fewer than 20 percent of students graduated with work experience, compared to 30 percent in 2002 and 48 percent in 1968.

The good news is that we are working together – the public sector, industry and educators – to address the talent pipeline challenge and to take decisive action. Here are some ways we are working together toward this unified vision:

Change perceptions: In addition to Manufacturing Day and all the great work manufacturers do in their local communities with high school students, Conexus Indiana has launched Make IN Move, a statewide awareness program that educates young adults – Generation Z – about the benefits of pursuing a career in advanced manufacturing and logistics. Launched late this summer, the campaign is engaging with hundreds of young adults who want to learn more about advanced manufacturing and logistics and is serving as a platform for industry partners to engage.

Inspire young believers: We must accept that waiting until kids get into high school to inspire them to pursue an advanced manufacturing career path is waiting too long. We need to connect with students earlier, recognizing that career interests often form in earlier grades. And we don’t have to invent a new system to do this. Proven and affordable programs already exist to introduce students to the much-needed STEM disciplines at an early age. For example, from my six years on the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Foundation Board, I’m familiar with the “A World in Motion” or “AWIM” curriculum created by SAE. But you don’t have to take my word of endorsement alone for this program. In 2020, AWIM reached over 69,000 students in more than 2,300 classrooms, with 91% of teachers reporting improved STEM performance in their students and 98% reporting increased excitement about STEM.

Give students work-based learning opportunities: Traditional apprenticeships have focused on unemployed and underemployed adults. While youth apprenticeships continue to be popular in Europe, they fell out of favor in the U.S. as more and more young people were urged into college-only pathways. However, employers increasingly recognize that education alone isn’t sufficient to prepare students for the workplace. Now, efforts are underway to push apprenticeship programs down to the high school level, reaching youth as early as their sophomore year with work-based learning opportunities.

Support high school career and tech education: Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner and the Governors Workforce Cabinet work closely with the leaders of Vincennes University and Ivy Tech Community College to offer new technology programs that introduce students to post-secondary advanced manufacturing pathways even before they leave high school. This alignment allows for a smooth transition from secondary to post-secondary education, or a direct path to the workforce.

Leverage our post-secondary institutions: Ivy Tech and Vincennes offer two-year programs, and many of the state’s major universities offer related four-year degrees to prepare young adults for careers in advanced manufacturing. Ivy Tech and Vincennes also offer opportunities to transfer into four-year institutions, creating a clear connection for continuing education.

And how do these actions impact those who choose careers in the state’s largest industry? They find rewarding careers with companies that offer great benefits and average salaries that are 40% higher than the average for all Hoosiers. And they can know that they are filling a pipeline that makes products that move the world forward and help our state’s economy to grow.           

“True fulfillment in life is found in production, not consumption,” said investing pioneer and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. In Indiana, we see that truth in the collective fulfillment we enjoy through manufacturing, not just one day a year, but every day of every year.

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