Injection molder Rodon Group said it's been growing 10 percent a year and worries about where it will find employees.
So the company, in Hatfield, Pa., has really embraced Manufacturing Day as one way to get more students thinking about manufacturing and to help build a pipeline of future workers.
Rodon is apparently not alone. Manufacturing Day, which officially takes place the first Friday in October, had 240 participating companies when it started in 2012.
This year it's 10 times larger, with an estimated 3,000 factories in the U.S., Canada and Mexico opening their doors to 250,000 students and teachers.
On the surface, this event may seem to be about community relations, but companies see it as good recruiting tool, a way to show students that manufacturing does not have to be a dirty or dangerous job.
They also want to show that manufacturing jobs increasingly require technology skills.
As part of our coverage, Plastics News has done a podcast on this year's Manufacturing Day.
In it, I follow around a group of students and their teacher from a technical high school in Pennsylvania as they toured Rodon, discussing what the students think, and I talked with two other companies who participate.
My colleague Jeremy Carroll also caught up with U.S. Secretary of Education John King as he spoke at a Manufacturing Day event at Proper Group International, a toolmaker and injection molding company based in Warren, Mich.
At Rodon, I was struck by how much exposure to robotics the students already had. They mentioned to me that their classrooms had the same kinds of Fanuc robots they saw on the shop floor at Rodon.
Their school also has the same kind of Baxter robot that Rodon was testing out. (If you don't know robots, Baxter is a robot designed to work safely alongside people, performing simple tasks in factories.) Seems great for the high schoolers that they have those opportunities in class.
In a way, though, the message that manufacturers have for students is complicated by the last decade and a half, when it wasn't a growth industry at all – employment in manufacturing dropped from about 18 million in 2000 to 12 million today.
As Rodon Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kevin McGrath talks about in the podcast, that left the industry without a good pipeline of future talent.
The industry went “radio silent,” in McGrath's words, as a place for opportunities, as it absorbed globalization. I think you could also add in as it absorbed the technology that's impacted much of the workplace in the last 20 years.
But now that the domestic U.S. industry is seeing growth again – both Rodon and Education Secretary King mentioned estimates that the U.S. manufacturing workforce could grow by several million jobs in the next decade – they need to find ways to restart the employee pipeline.
That's where Manufacturing Day comes in, and hopefully our podcast can give you a feel for it.