New program seeks to connect manufacturers, students
New regional program seeks to connect manufacturers, students
There are roughly 3,700 manufacturers and 120 public high schools in the 12 counties that make up Southwestern Pennsylvania.
While the manufacturing industry is thriving here, there’s been a big disconnect among companies with job openings and their ability to interest students in considering what they have to offer.
A new initiative launched recently by Pittsburgh-based Catalyst Connection hopes to connect more high schoolers with the idea that there are not just plenty of jobs, but abundant career opportunities in the region’s manufacturing sector.
Catalyst’s “Explore the New Manufacturing” program, which is funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum and Alcoa foundations, is designed to give manufacturing employers a pathway and specific tools to connect with youth. Based on its needs, a company can engage with students through short- or long-term opportunities like plant tours, job shadowing, mentoring or e-mentoring, paid summer internships, sponsor-a-project opportunities or longer-term apprenticeships that often lead to jobs.
Catalyst Connection Chief Executive Officer Petra Mitchell said that while manufacturing is vibrant throughout the region, companies here are challenged in finding enough qualified workers in the local labor pool.
“Throughout our region, the manufacturing sector is strong, but its future will depend on the availability of talented workers,” Mitchell said. “To allow this industry to continue to flourish, efforts must be made now to change the mindset of young people who view manufacturing as an industry of old, replacing it with a vision of jobs that are high-paying, innovative and in great demand.”
“We want to get employers engaged with local schools and get more companies involved with (being able to) find the talent they need,” said Scott Dietz, Catalyst’s manager of workforce initiatives.
He noted that the difficulty in finding qualified workers for manufacturing has become more acute over the past few years as the oil and gas companies working in the Marcellus Shale have hired away many skilled workers, including welders and machinists.
Looking to the future, Dietz said the challenge of finding skilled workers could grow even more daunting if the proposed Shell ethane cracker plant in Beaver County receives a green light. If a plant is approved by the oil and gas giant, the expectation is that it would create the opportunity for more manufacturers to bring operations to the region to take adavantage of the cheap feedstock the plant could produce for making all types of petrochemical products.
The big challenge at the high school level, Dietz said, is what he sees as “an interest gap” among students when it comes to considering a manufacturing career.
He added that some manufacturers have acknowledged that they need to do a better job of promoting themselves and their industry to high school students.
Catalyst Connection, which works with small- and mid-sized manufacturers on a variety of projects from assisting them in streamlining hiring practices to establishing training programs and improving production fficiencies, sees the new initiative as a way to fulfill that shortcoming.
State Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane, who two years ago helped to initiate a meeting between local high school guidance counselors and the area’s energy industry employers, said Catalyst’s latest initiative will drive home an important message about employment opportunities in manufacturing.
“The important thing to remember is that these are careers, they’re not just jobs,” Neuman said last week.
“This should bridge a gap between the next generation of workers and the companies we have here now,” he said.
According to figures provided by Catalyst, the United States has the world’s largest manufacturing economy, and produces 18.2 percent of global manufactured products. China is second with 17.6 percent.
Pennsylvania manufacturers employ more than 500,000 workers, and produce 60 percent of new business patents in the state.
The annual wage of a manufacturing employee in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area in 2011 was $56,328, nearly 20 percent higher than the average wage.
Catalyst’s latest educational endeavor is built upon the success it has had with programs like Adventures in Technology, which since 2002 has connected more than 2,400 area students from 60 high schools and technical schools with more than 60 companies throughout the Pittsburgh region. The students work with local companies on specific, hands-on improvement projects.
Local companies that have participated in the technology program have included Universal Electric in Cecil Township, as well as All-Clad Metalcrafters in Canonsburg.
Dietz said the manufacturing initiative “is designed for the high school level, but we have gone to seventh and eighth grade as part of our pilot program” that began last spring.
Catalyst provides instruction materials for participating companies to use in their presentations to students.
Launched in May, the program has yet to sign any schools, a condition Dietz expects to change quickly when schools resume classes later this month.
He added that if successful, the manufacturing initiative could become a branded program that could be used across Pennsylvania, where many manufacturers face the same sort of workforce challenges being experienced in the Pittsburgh region.
Schools interested in “Explore The New Manufacturing” or having a presentation made for their students or companies interested in participating should contact Scott Dietz at email@example.com or 412-918-4227.