‘Making Your Future’ initiative strives to connect ‘makers’ to area manufacturers’ growing needs

September 16, 2017
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Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter
Petra Mitchell, CEO of Pittsburgh-based Catalyst Connection, discusses the “Making Your Future” initiative during a visit to the Observer-Reporter last week. The new program seeks to connect adults involved with some aspect of making things to manufacturers in the tri-state region who have openings for a variety of positions. Order a Print

Over the next decade, a growing manufacturing sector in the tri-state region will require 30,000 new workers to fill current and new vacancies.

A new venture between Pittsburgh-area manufacturers of metals and advanced materials and Catalyst Connection, a nonprofit that works with small and mid-sized manufacturers – including those in Washington and Greene counties – is trying to attract young adults to fill these positions.

The target audience for the “Making Your Future” initiative are part of the so-called “maker” movement, men and women in the tri-state area who make or produce something like an art or a craft, or those who enjoy working with their hands, with a passion for building, baking, welding, painting, coding, assembling, carving or designing.

The program, which will help to bring together makers with the area’s 2,829 manufacturers, also associates the maker with a new manufacturing term for someone who uses digital tooling or processes to create a tangible product.

‘Immediate need’

During an interview at the Observer-Reporter last week, Catalyst Connection CEO Petra Mitchell said the target audience was chosen “because we have this immediate need, so we can’t wait for the kids to graduate from high school.”

While Mitchell concedes that many in the target group could currently be unemployed or underemployed, she believes they can be trained for good-paying manufacturing jobs. According to MakingYourFuture.org, the average salary of employees working in manufacturing is $59,683.

Mitchell noted that like the growing maker movement, a career in manufacturing often requires creativity, technical skills and a desire to see a task through from start to finish.

The Making Your Future initiative was designed to help thousands of people find a career in manufacturing with a desired outcome of connecting qualified employees to the 30,000 -plus job vacancies over the next decade.

The focus of the initiative is threefold:

• Making it easier for adult job seekers to learn about and network with manufacturing leaders;

• Making it easier for employers to find skilled talent; and

•Making it easier for our partners to collaborate on new initiatives for regional economic impact.

Connecting employers, job seekers

The new website, www.MakingYourFuture.org serves as the connection between potential employees and the thousands of manufacturing companies in Western Pennsylvania.

According to information provided by the organization, the demand is real and will continue to grow.

According to the state Department of Labor and Industry’s Center for Workforce Information & Analysis, about 8,500 new manufacturing jobs open up every year across the state. CWIA estimates that by 2024, there will be an average of 10,398 annual openings in the “Production Occupations” sector, a result of a combination of growth and replacement of the existing workforce.

The real challenge looming ahead isn’t just the 30,000 or more people needed for manufacturing jobs. Statistics provided by MakingYourFuture.org state that by 2025, there is expected to be a workforce deficit of 80,000 people in the Pittsburgh region.

In addition to the region’s legacy metals manufacturing jobs, the American Chemistry Council estimates that the new Shell ethane cracker plant in Beaver County will generate roughly 17,800 new jobs: 600 at the facility itself, 1,800 more chemical industry jobs, 8,500 supply chain jobs and 6,900 “spin-off” jobs.

According to Mitchell, some of the most in-demand jobs are for makers: machinists, mechanics, engineers, assemblers, welders and many more. While many of the jobs will need some training or certification, most do not require a four-year degree.

The website was created to help job seekers find opportunities in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Other high-priority jobs in manufacturing that are in-demand now include CNC operators, electrical engineers, first line supervisors of production workers; industrial machinery mechanics, machinists, mechanical/manufacturing engineers and sales engineers.

Mitchell said one of the features of the initiative is to guide people to apprenticeships for training in many of the positions.

The website provides numerous resources for job seekers including assessment tools to help guide them to the best career options; a list of regional training programs and guidance on how to choose the appropriate one; an explanation of, and resources for, apprenticeships; and access to current job postings to connect to thousands of positions with real-time information about trending occupations and salaries.

Because a common theme to successful manufacturing companies is the need for strong leaders at every level of the organization, Catalyst Connection’s Manufacturing Academy has expanded its leadership training to help manufacturing managers and supervisors obtain the skills they need to keep employees productive and motivated.

Just as the website provides resources for job seekers, it also provides them for manufacturers in the region, including assessment tools to attract desired job seekers and retain current employees; toolkits to help create or improve existing apprenticeship and internship programs; a list of sites and area workforce organizations that connect to job seekers; and a list of programs in the community that connect with the future workforce pipeline.

Tech prep a must

The Making Your Future initiative acknowledges that the future workforce will need technical preparation for what it will encounter on the shop floor, a reason why it views apprenticeships as a way to train many of those who are hired.

Mitchell said many manufacturers in the region are increasingly making investments in automated machinery that requires operators who can program units to perform a variety of tasks.

Some are moving toward “connected environments” where robots are connected to other machines or other robots in the factory.

She said a recent survey of area manufacturers found that 43 have already invested in some form of automation, while another 48 percent said they plan to make investments within the next three years.

On Wednesday, the Brookings Institution released the results of an 18-month study on Pittsburgh’s rise as a global innovation city, and its recommendations included additional support for advanced manufacturing.

The institute suggests the formation of a partnership of public, private and civic leaders to “build and support Pittsburgh’s innovation clusters around advanced manufacturing, as well as life sciences and autonomous systems.

While the study notes that there are many candidates for innovation clusters, it placed advanced manufacturing at the top of its list “given Pittsburgh’s technical strengths in robotics.”

“We need workers who can program, run and maintain machines,” Mitchell said, adding that while many of the job-seekers aren’t working in tech-related industries, the expectation is that they can be trained.

“If you can get an individual in the door, there are so many resources to guide them,” she said.

To learn more about the Making Your Future initiative, access www.Making YourFuture.org.

Michael Bradwell has been business editor for the Observer-Reporter since 1995, and was named editor of The Energy Report in 2012. He joined the newspaper in 1990 as a general assignment reporter in the Greene County bureau and has also worked as a copy editor. A 1974 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English, he began his career at the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette. Prior to joining the O-R, he served as public relations director for Old Bedford Village, account executive at two Pittsburgh public relations agencies and copywriter for the country’s largest wholesaler of mutual funds.

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