Manufacturing looks to change its image problem

A production line manufacturing

Jeremy Hobson: It's amazing to hear this when the unemployment rate in this country is as high as it is -- but almost 80 percent of American manufacturers are having trouble finding skilled workers for their factories. That's according to the latest
study from the Manufacturing Institute.

Marketplace's Sarah Gardner talked to one manufacturer who's trying to tackle that "talent gap" himself.


Sarah Gardner: Jeff Kelly is CEO of Hamill Manufacturing in Trafford, Pa. His dad started the company in 1952, machining and welding metal parts, mostly for navy submarines and aircraft carriers.

Jeff Kelly: We actually started with the Nautilus, which was the very first nuclear submarine.

Kelly's company still makes parts for navy ships. He employs about 130 people, but his baby boomer employees are retiring, and he can't find enough workers to take their place. Manufacturing, Kelly says, has an image problem.

Kelly: Dull, unexciting, boring, maybe difficult.

Dirty and dangerous, too. But nowadays, this ain't your grandfather's factory, Kelly says. Most manufacturing floors are small, clean and computerized. Kelly tells kids that when he scours local high schools for future employees.

Kelly: We start looking at kids when they're in the ninth grade. We talk to the teachers and we find out who's a potential young person that would come into our business.

For Kelly's company, that means kids who aced trigonometry, and have good spatial acuity and mechanical skills.

Emily DeRocco, president of the Manufacturing Institute, argues this talent shortage has serious implications.

Emily DeRocco: We cannot sustain -- as a nation -- a strong economy, if we don't continue to be a nation that makes things.

CEO Jeff Kelly is training 10 young apprentices right now, a refreshing addition to his aging workforce. The average age in manufacturing: around 45.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

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