New advanced manufacturing study stresses education
Well-educated workforce ‘matters more than any other single factor in the health of advanced manufacturing firms’
New Hampshire and the rest of the United States will have to build a highly educated workforce in order to support the growing advanced manufacturing sector, according to a study from Ball State University in Indiana.
The study was conducted by the University’s Center for Business and Economic Research in partnership with Conexus Indiana, an advanced manufacturing initiative. The research used occupational employment information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to track the growth of various advanced manufacturing fields since 2004.
According to the research, white-collar and STEM employment comprised most of the growth in the advanced manufacturing industry throughout the country, while blue-collar employment either fell or stayed the same. The report concluded that this indicates “a well-educated and ready workforce matters more than any other single factor in the health of advanced manufacturing firms.”
In the study, New Hampshire was found to have a relatively high share of advanced manufacturing employment out of total manufacturing employment — between 40 and 50 percent — which also indicates a need for highly educated workers to fill those positions.
Val Zanchuk, chair of the Business and Industry Association of NH and president of the Jaffrey-based manufacturing company Graphicast, echoed the importance of education for advanced manufacturing as outlined in the study.
“Training and having a skilled workforce have always been a necessity,” he said. “Over time, the amount of technology on the floor changes … as companies advance, it requires skills that are evolving. You have to evolve with those changes.”
As previously reported in NH Business Review, a related Ball State study ranks each state in categories important to the advanced manufacturing industry, including “human capital” — the ability to generate enough workers, primarily through education. Measurements of human capital included factors like the first-year retention rate of community and technical colleges, the number of associates degrees awarded annually and the share of adults enrolled in adult basic education.
Though New Hampshire received an A in that category based on information from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, some say the state’s ability to fill advanced manufacturing positions isn’t so cut-and-dried.
“Other factors that come into play are, are those folks all already working? Are the folks in the pipeline to work going to be available for the jobs that await them?” said Dr. Eric Feldborg, the state’s director of career and technical education. “The answer to those questions is no.”
Zanchuk has also seen the shortage of educated workers to fill much-needed advanced manufacturing positions.
“There’s a whole educational process, not only book learning, but also just getting the public to realize the importance of manufacturing to the New Hampshire economy,” he said.
Though the advanced manufacturing industry still struggles to find employees, the state has seen significant improvement over the past few years, according to NH Sen. Molly Kelly, D-Harrisville, who heads the governor’s Advanced Manufacturing Education Advisory Council.
Kelly said that collaboration between businesses and educators has led to significant progress in the advanced manufacturing sector, though that collaboration must continue in order to meet the needs of the advanced manufacturing industry.
“We’ve come a long way. In 2008, no one even knew what STEM meant, and now everyone is talking about it,” Kelly said. “But it didn’t just happen by itself. A lot of people came out of their separate silos and chose to work together … in moving forward. [They were] very creative. That’s what’s exciting about New Hampshire, and that’s what’s exciting about our country.”