Despite assertions from manufacturers that they will need a new breed of highly skilled workers in the years ahead and job opportunities will abound for today’s youth, U.S. teenagers in large numbers don’t want to work with their hands when launching their careers.  

According to a recent national poll*, majority of American teenagers want to wear white collars, not blue, when they launch their careers. Results showed 52% of teens have little or no interest in a manufacturing career. When asked why, a whopping 61% said they seek a professional career.

This is despite assertions from manufacturers who will need a new breed of highly skilled workers, knowing job opportunities will abound for today’s youth in the coming years.

“Unfortunately, manufacturing often is not positioned as a viable career by groups such as educators and counselors, and at times factory work even is maligned in pop culture and the media,” saidGerald Shankel, president ofNuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs(NBT), The Foundation of theFabricators & Manufacturers Association, which sponsored the poll. “Based on this environment, these findings are not surprising.  

“It’s ironic that even with so many professionals unemployed today, teens still consider the traditional college degree as the launch pad to the preferred career path,” Shankel said. He also adds that the industry must generate young people’s interests and that these skilled jobs will “require the kind of high tech, computer skills young people love to apply.”

The survey of 500 teens reveals this effort to spark interest and commitment faces obstacles based on their limited exposure to what often are called the “manual arts.” The poll shows:
  • Six in 10 teens never have visited or toured a factory or other manufacturing facility.
  • Only 28% have taken an industrial arts or shop class, yet more than double that number have completed a home economics course.
  • Almost 27% of teens spend no time during the week working with their hands on projects such as woodworking or models, 30% less than one hour and just 26% one to two hours.

“It’s a tragedy that we no longer teach our young people to work with their hands or even encourage them to try it on their own,” said actor and producerJohn Ratzenberger, an NBT founder who leads the organization’s communications outreach. “When so few experience a factory tour or can take pride in finishing a shop project, it’s no wonder that a manufacturing career receives low marks. Ratzenberger adds, “Our education system theoretically is supposed to prepare our children for the future, yet we fail to offer them exposure to skills and fields that offer both them and us a brighter future.”

Shankel also notes that more than 70% of Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong national economy and national security. “Such sentiment really motivates us to work hard to inspire the next generation of manufacturers, welders, builders, electricians and other trades people,” Shankel said.  

NBT addresses this goal by offering grants to not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions that introduce young people to careers in the trades through manufacturing summer camps for youth. It also issues scholarships to students at colleges and trade schools pursuing studies that lead to careers in manufacturing.

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*The NBT poll results are based on the responses of 500 teens, ages 13 to 17, who participated in a Web survey in September 2009.

Source: Fabricators & Manufacturers Association