Manufacturing Day is once again upon us, October 5, 2018. Manufacturing Day is a national annual event where manufacturers open their doors and invite local youth and community members to see and experience manufacturing in their backyard. This year, the common problem that all manufacturers seem to be struggling with is attracting a talented workforce. Several factors seem to be
working against this.

Paddy Fleming, Montana Manufacturing Extension Center director writes about Manufacturing Day

Paddy Fleming, Montana Manufacturing Extension Center director

Manufacturing does not have a stellar reputation and as a result, parents and school career counselors tend to recommend that students pursue 4-year college degrees. The reality is that manufacturing is not dirty, dangerous, or a dead-end. Manufacturing jobs today are very clean, very safe and often have amazing career paths. Today’s manufacturing employees are expected to be highly technical, team-oriented problem solvers.

So, how do manufacturers attract the employees they need to grow Montana’s economy?

First, we need to pay a decent wage. Manufacturing jobs in Montana pay an average of 17 percent higher wages than the average Montana job; however, Montana’s manufacturers pay only 75 percent of the national average. To pay higher wages, we’ve got to become more efficient at what we do. We do not need to work harder, we need to work smarter. The first step here is to begin the Continuous Improvement journey, which will increase your efficiency and cash flow.

Automation is another factor we need to consider in the workforce struggle.

There are certain jobs that people are just not going to do anymore. These jobs are most likely the jobs in your factory that you can’t seem to keep filled. They are probably very strenuous and/or extremely boring. Gone are the days of paying people to stack 50 lb. bags on pallets or pulling 2”x12” lumber off of the green chain all day. A robot can be purchased to do this for about $50k which
could give you a payback period of less than two years. Now, instead of having employees that do manual labor, you’ll need an employee who can program and service the robot.

Providing a clear career path is another problem we see in manufacturing. Manufacturers need to show potential employees the wage progression and promotion requirements (i.e. training, experience, demonstrated skills, etc.) throughout all levels and divisions of the company. A flow chart indicating possible paths can be helpful to show that, for instance, after being a machine operator for two years, one could move into customer service or maintenance.

Apprenticeships are an amazing tool that can be used to recruit and train employees. A common misperception is that having apprenticeships will lead your employees to organize a union. In reality, an apprenticeship is simply a formal agreement in which your company agrees to help pay for necessary training while an employeeworks for you. In comparison to the costs you incur due to employee turnover, this is a screaming deal. You can apply an apprenticeship to any job in manufacturing, and the state will provide a tax break for every year that your employee is in an apprenticeship. If you are worried that you will train the employee and then the employee will leave to go to your competition, consider that most apprentices are more loyal to the employer that invested in their training.

For those of you who have a Manufacturing Day event scheduled, THANK YOU! For those who don’t, please consider putting one together for this year (it can be very simple!) or begin planning for next year. It is a great opportunity to market your company to potential employees, even if they are only in Junior High at this point. For help in addressing your workforce issues, please feel
free to contact the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (

Guest article by: Paddy Fleming, director of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center

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