The Portage Development Board is teaming up with a northeast Ohio alliance of manufacturers to promote careers in manufacturing among young students.
Brad Ehrhart, president of the PDB, said the group has joined with the Alliance for Working Together, a Mentor-based nonprofit started in 2002 by a small group of manufacturing company presidents and CEOs when manufacturers realized that retirements by the baby boomer generation would mean losing a skilled manufacturing workforce. The National Association of Manufacturers said in 2012 that 81 percent of American manufacturers said their biggest problem is finding qualified workers.
"In 2012 we interviewed 95 manufacturing companies, as part of the Portage County Business Retention and Expansion Program and 53 manufacturers reported problems in finding qualified employees," Ehrhart said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 8,788 people county residents employed in manufacturing, and 238 establishments engaged in manufacturing. Most of those employed fewer than 100 people.
The need is expected to grow in the region, according to Team NEO, an economic development group for northeast Ohio. Pushing the need is the shift from traditional manufacturing to advanced manufacturing techniques. Team NEO is predicting the manufacturing Gross Regional Product will grow by 39 percent, to a $43 billion sector of the economy. That will outpace the U.S. manufacturing sector. The group released its latest quarterly economic review on Monday.
As the manufacturing sector rebounds, firms will need machinists, welders and computer-aided design workers, Ehrhart said.
"The issue is they're not coming up through the ranks. Our education system is based on college preparation and we're missing out on the direction to tell kids there are other ways to win, too, through technical courses and two-year degrees," Ehrhart said.
Today, the Alliance Working Together, which comprises more than 75 manufacturing companies in northeast Ohio, is sponsoring tours of manufacturing firms and other events to spur students' interest in manufacturing careers.
Ehrhart said the PDB and AWT will work to recruit Portage County manufacturers to promote careers in manufacturing through activities such as the annual RoboBots competition and tours of plants in Portage by seventh- and eighth-grade students.
Through the competition, high school students learn about potential manufacturing careers.
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