Young workers in Minnesota are more likely to consider a job in manufacturing if they were exposed to the trades in school or by family, but 57 percent of the state's workers never learned about manufacturing careers before turning 18, according to a study released Monday.
West Monroe Partners, a Chicago-based business consultant company, asked 1,000 Minnesota workers aged 18-40 about the manufacturing industry. The study found 44 percent of respondents would not consider a manufacturing career, but that figure falls to 38 percent and 35 percent if the respondent had family employed in manufacturing or if the respondent grew up learning about manufacturing, respectively.
The study concluded "early education and awareness of manufacturing careers drives interest."
Jim Petruga, president of the Arrowhead Manufacturers and Fabricators Association, said he found the results of the study positive overall, but he highlighted the need to increase outreach efforts to students.
"So that tells me the more we can do to get kids out to see manufacturers, to visit places and to see if it kind of tweaks an interest for them - that's a good thing," Petruga said, adding that it's encouraging to see people with family members already working in manufacturing consider the field. "Their family members are also creating a good impression about having a career in manufacturing. If the opposite was the case, that number would be flipped."
Dan Fanning, director of institutional advancement at Lake Superior College, which trains many of the area's machinists and welders, said technical and trade schools throughout the state have increased outreach efforts to students in middle and high school.
Fanning said he expects the number of people learning about manufacturing careers before age 18 to increase.
"I think that's starting to change," Fanning said. "I'd love to see this poll in a couple years because we're working more and more with the K-12 systems in Duluth and the entire region trying to change that."
Fanning and Petruga both said sponsoring events and activities and arranging field trips to businesses could help show students manufacturing is a possible career path.
The study was released at a time when the number of manufacturing jobs in the region is rising, and employers scramble for qualified candidates.
Over 7,700 people in St. Louis, Douglas and Carlton counties were employed in manufacturing jobs in March, according to data tracked by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The region reached over 7,900 manufacturing jobs in December, the highest since the 2008 recession.
"There's a big need for skilled machinists and welders in almost every facility ... at virtually all of them, you're going to see a sign out front asking for welders," Petruga said.
At Lake Superior College, enrollment in its Machine Tool Technology program is also increasing - from 146 students in 2012 to 275 students in 2018. Numbers for the welding program were not immediately available.
Job placement for LSC's programs are near 100 percent, Fanning said.
Fanning said LSC is trying to change the mindset among students, parents and guidance counselors that a four-year degree is necessary for a career when a two-year technical degree can lead to plenty of careers.
"Part of that is just getting into not only the high schools, but also the middle schools and sometimes even younger, just to get on the radar and let them know that that's a viable option," Fanning said.
That's key, said Dennis McRae, who leads West Monroe Partners' consumer and industrial products industry team.
"Given the majority of the population doesn't want to work in manufacturing, education about the benefits and changing digital environment needs to start early," McRae said. "In fact, our poll showed Minnesotans who learned about manufacturing careers before they turned 18 were more likely to have a positive perception of the industry and consider launching a career there."