Manufacturing offers ‘new collar’ jobs with high skills, high pay

In many ways, manufacturing has never been doing better. Record numbers of manufacturers are optimistic about the future. They are investing more, they are hiring more workers, and they are paying higher compensation.

Yet, manufacturers across Kentucky and across America also face a growing crisis: too many jobs and not enough workers to fill them. We must tackle this challenge if we’re going to secure the future of America’s most iconic industry and our economy overall.

That’s exactly what the organizations we lead — The Manufacturing Institute, the social impact arm of the National Association of Manufacturers dedicated to the modern manufacturing workforce, and Toyota — are working to do, together with partners across the commonwealth.

Today more than half a million manufacturing jobs across our country — and thousands across Kentucky — are going unfilled, as will millions more in coming years.

The problem is threefold: Some people don’t know these jobs exist, some don’t have the right skills to land them, and others just don’t see the point. They might envision manufacturing jobs the way their grandparents remember them, and they’re just not interested.

But that’s not how modern manufacturing careers look today. At Toyota, for instance, modern manufacturing means collaborating, problem-solving and producing high-quality products that make people’s lives better around the world.

Surprised? You’re not alone. Skeptical? Come see for yourself. This month, manufacturers across the commonwealth will open their doors as part of a Manufacturing Institute–led program to let you see the reality of modern manufacturing firsthand.

These events aren’t just informative; they’re fun. For kids. For adults. For everyone. Toyota is planning events, largely centered on engaging young students, at several of its 10 U.S. plants and its corporate headquarters in Plano, Texas. Toyota’s Kentucky plant also offers tours weekly — a great way to see what goes into building America’s best-selling car.

Overcoming manufacturing’s perception problem is critical, but we also need to give Kentuckians the right skills to land today’s manufacturing jobs, too. These jobs are not just high tech and high paying — Kentuckians in manufacturing make on average about $70,000 in annual compensation compared to $42,000 for Kentuckians in most other industries — they’re also increasingly high skill.

In celebration of Manufacturing Day, we joined Harrison County Schools, Project Lead the Way, Kentucky FAME (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education) and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton at Toyota’s Georgetown facility to announce that the manufacturing career pathway in Harrison County will now stretch from pre-K to master’s degrees.

This educational approach rightly recognizes that learning is a journey, not a destination, and aims to help workers increase their wages by increasing their skills. It’s also exactly the kind of cross-sector partnership we’re going to need more of if we want to solve the workforce crisis both in Kentucky and across the nation.

Manufacturing careers aren’t about “white collar” or “blue collar” anymore; they’re about “new collar” jobs that require training but not necessarily a four-year degree — and they offer the potential of challenging, fulfilling and high-paying employment. Consider joining us in a booming industry — the time has never been better.

Carolyn Lee is executive director of The Manufacturing Institute. Susan Elkington is president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc.