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Editorial: Manufacturing Day highlights strengths, challenges

A group of trade associations created National Manufacturing Day last year to draw attention to the importance of manufacturing in the economy and to encourage Americans to consider manufacturing careers.

In the midstate, every day is manufacturing day. Every time someone eats a potato chip, crosses a bridge or drives a car, chances are high they're using a midstate product or a product born in a Pennsylvania industry. From corn, potatoes and chocolate to steel, electronics and other items, more than 12 percent of the commonwealth's economy output falls under the manufacturing rubric, and the midstate more than holds its own.

When it comes to demand, innovation and profitability, manufacturing continues to be strong. It's the second part of the day's mission that is worrisome — bringing in the next generation of employees. Manufacturing needs smart, skilled, hands-on people and isn't finding them.

More than 10 percent of Pennsylvania's workforce today is employed in manufacturing. The majority of those jobs pay well and have stable futures. Talk to just about any employer, however, and you'll hear that jobs go begging. Applicants don't have the right skills or, worse, aren't coming in the door in sufficient numbers.

Yet a career in manufacturing, whether on the factory floor or in management, can open the door to opportunity for young workers sooner. A study last year found that nearly half of recent college graduates were either under-employed or unemployed. But, the U.S. Department of Labor reports, employment for those with associate degrees, which tend toward technical, job-specific fields, is climbing.

Frequently students can enter programs at technical schools, community colleges or even at the high school vo-tech level that were developed in cooperation with local employers, thus increasing their chances of skills-related employment after completing their programs.

This isn't to say that college is unnecessary in manufacturing fields. The days when a factory hand could climb the ladder to CEO without formal education are long gone. Because of globalization, technology and other factors that make running a business — any business — more complex, higher and continuing education are givens.

So there is much to celebrate in the midstate and across the country on National Manufacturing Day today. Among the thousands of activities planned are much-deserved awards and recognition programs and activities to honor American manufacturing's leaders.

But the most important events are those that focus on tomorrow. If more people can see that manufacturing offers challenging and rewarding career paths, subsequent "days" will, indeed, be red-letter occasions.

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