Greg Larson is president of Waukesha-based Wildeck Inc., a manufacturer of industrial mezzanines, guard rail and material handling equipment. It’s important to get kids interested in manufacturing, he says.
“Manufacturing is the backbone of the American economy, responsible for producing more than 18 percent of the world’s goods. Despite this substantial market share, industry executives across the nation are facing a dilemma that threatens this stronghold: attracting and retaining qualified talent.
“Across the country, high schools are under an increasing amount of pressure to cut costs. As a result, investments in trade and shop classes are sacrificed and students are deprived of the satisfaction that comes from creating something tangible with their hands.
“How do we as executives, managers and leaders bridge this widening skills gap?
“I believe that the first step starts with challenging pervasive misconceptions. The upcoming workforce desperately needs to experience the pride that comes from transforming materials into a finished, usable product. They need to know that skilled, innovative employees are wanted to support the new technologies (i.e., 3D printing, robotics, predictive analytics) rapidly changing the manufacturing landscape. Factory tours, speaking engagements, school partnerships and internships provide irrefutable evidence that exciting and rewarding careers exist in manufacturing.
“Additionally, paid on-the-job training programs and continuing education opportunities communicate an invaluable message to prospective and current employees: you are both wanted and needed here. In a world that increasingly trends toward segmentation and isolation, a sense of community and belonging is a novelty. In a competitive employment market, initiatives of this kind shine a spotlight on an organization.
“The future is never certain, but there will always be a need for those that can build and create.”