For many Plastics News readers, Manufacturing Day is usually a pretty big deal. It's one day a year that you welcome young people — from elementary school pupils to college students — into your workplace.
It's an opportunity to show them that plastics manufacturing isn't dirty and boring. Most years, Manufacturing Day — or MFG Day, for short — is the first Friday in October. Companies work closely with local schools to bring in field trips to expose kids to the potential of modern factories and foster interest in manufacturing careers.
Most years, more than 2,600 U.S. companies participate and host an estimated 400,000 students, parents and community members. But we all know that 2020 isn't like most years.
A few weeks ago, we started to plan our annual event coverage, and it dawned on us that this might be a year without MFG Day. How can plastics factories safely open their doors to hundreds of local schoolchildren during a pandemic? How can they socially distance?
Not to mention, how can teachers, already burdened with virtual learning, shifting schedules and late starts to the school year, be expected to get organized and take the time to participate?
Most years, in the weeks leading up to MFG Day, we get lots of invitations to send reporters to plastics plants to capture the excitement and show off their community outreach. This year that didn't happen.
We did eventually hear from a handful of companies, and two are featured in Catherine Kavanaugh's story. Bekum America and PVC profile extruder Veka Inc. both hosted virtual versions of MFG Day.
They deserve applause for making it happen. In this pandemic year, especially, plastics manufacturers have a great story to tell about the career opportunities for young workers. We all know about the skills gap and how it's going to get worse very soon as baby boomers retire.
Popular opinion is that manufacturing is done in low-wage countries now, and there's no future in factory work. But the reality, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is that manufacturing is the nation's fifth-largest employer, with 11.6 million workers.
In terms of job growth, plastics outperforms the rest of the U.S. manufacturing sector. According to a recent report from the Plastics Industry Association, from 2012 to 2019, the number of U.S. plastics jobs increased 1.6 percent. By comparison, all U.S. manufacturing employment grew only 1 percent. And that's in an era when plastics plants invested heavily in automation.
Many manual jobs are disappearing, but what remains, and is actually growing, are high-tech jobs that are in high demand. The jobs that turn into good careers.
I'm glad to see companies and their leaders take an active role in their communities by participating in MFG Day. Your neighbors need to be aware of the plastics industry's size and importance so they know that plastics are a significant employer and contributor to the local, national and global economies.
I think MFG Day will come back strong in 2021. In many ways, the industry's future depends on it.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.