Manufacturing Jobs for the 21st Century

Colorado, along with the rest of the country is experiencing a critical shortage of manufacturing workers. A recent study conducted by Boston Consulting Group concludes that there are 80,000-100,000 manufacturing jobs currently unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers. 60 Minutes recently ran this story on the labor shortage.

A Lot of Good Jobs in Colorado

Closer to home, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment predicts that local companies will add nearly 7000 production workers by 2014. The median manufacturing wage in Colorado is $16-$17 per hour and for machinists and welders it’s 15-20% higher. That’s a lot of good jobs. But where will the workers come from? When I ran a sheet metal business in the mid-1990s, skilled welders and press brake operators were next to impossible to find at any price. In many cases, things are no better today.

Students not Introduced to Trades

In the not so distant past, students could graduate from high school, get a job at the local plant and over time earn a middle class wage. When I was in school I took two years of shop and could have become a sheet metal worker, draftsman, cabinet maker or pressman without any additional training. How many of our secondary schools even teach shop anymore? Most of today’s high school students are never introduced to the trades and have no concept of the opportunities available to them in the manufacturing sector.

Good Jobs Require More Skills

Beyond the necessary technical skills, 21st century manufacturing workers also need to be able to think creatively, solve problems, communicate effectively, manage projects and work well in teams. They need to be good in math and must read well, too. While low-skill manufacturing jobs are still available right out of high school, most of these jobs are the traditional repetitive, dirty jobs of the past. These jobs do not pay very well and often have very high turnover. In fact, robots are replacing many workers in these low-skill occupations because they never get hurt or call in sick. Future job security involves constant upgrading of both technical and non-technical skills. Keep learning and you’ll be worth your weight in gold.

Jobs in Dynamic Industries

These high-skill jobs are anything but repetitive and involve computer programming, robotic instruction and machine control using a touch screen interface. They are in dynamic industries like medical devices and equipment, aerospace, defense, bioscience, electronics and clean technology. Step inside a plant making printed circuit boards, medical components or satellites and you’ll be amazed. You can practically eat off the floor. The shops are air conditioned, well lit and normally very quiet. Safety is a key concern because healthy workers make efficient employees.

Modern Factories are Models of Efficiency

In the past 20 years concepts like just-in-time manufacturing, statistical process control, cost of quality and continuous improvement have squeezed most of the waste out of the manufacturing processes. Skilled workers need to know something about these concepts before they enter the workforce. This knowledge can only come from post-secondary career and technical education available at community and technical colleges.

Getting an Education in Manufacturing

Generally, entry level jobs in manufacturing require only a certificate or two-year degree. Front Range Community College offers a number of credit and non-credit programs that will train future manufacturing workers for 21st century jobs, such as:


Picking a career path can be fraught with uncertainty. Have you considered a career in manufacturing? What concerns do you have?



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George Newman works on creating programs in manufacturing for Front Range Community College. He has a B.S. in chemical engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and 30 years of experience in sales, marketing, and operations of manufacturing businesses. George is a Civil War buff and he and his wife enjoy hiking, biking, and gardening.

3 Responses to “Manufacturing Jobs for the 21st Century”

November 26, 2012 at 3:08 pm, Community College to Start Short-Term Machining Training | Front Range Community College Blog said:

[…] Machining today is not like your father’s or grandfather’s machine shop, Newman says. […]

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December 19, 2012 at 10:45 am, wendy said:

Good article. Manufacture jobs are not dead yet…yet I said. My husband is one the few that has a job in the field. We, as a country, need to help make a strong comeback for manufacting jobs. I, for one, am not happy that one day a maching may replace my husband’s job. My husband found a job through Good luck and don’t give up.

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December 19, 2012 at 11:01 am, George Newman said:

Wendy: There is no doubt that automation is an unstoppable trend. The only defense against being replaced by a robot is to become irreplacable. By that I mean, continue to learn. Take on new responsibilities. Get more education. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Thanks for your comment.