Attendees enjoy lunch in the MST Atrium. (Photo by Sean Sullivan)

by Jonathan Geissler

This past Friday Mount Saint Mary College hosted the Second Annual Hudson Valley Manufacturing Conference that brought to light the issues that manufacturing has been facing in the past two decades.  Presented by the Center for Global Advanced Manufacturing (CGAM), the event, held at Aquinas Hall, was targeted toward educators and manufacturing executives while open to professors and students as well.

Manufacturing supports an estimated 17 million jobs in the United States and produces 1.7 trillion dollars of value each year.  In fact, we are the world’s largest manufacturing economy, currently producing over 20% of all global manufactured products.  Yet, over the past two decades, fewer and fewer Americans are finding employment in manufacturing.

The reasons for this dilemma are twofold.  First, there is a growing gap between the changing world and student readiness due to a lack of technology-based vocational studies within our education system.  Second, there exists a prevailing misconception that jobs in the manufacturing industry are inferior to that of employment requiring a broader education.

The half-day conference commenced at 8:00 a.m. with a continental breakfast followed by an introduction by Father Kevin Mackin.  Keynote speaker Willard R. Daggett, Ed.D., Founder and Chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education, then spoke about the current education system and the importance of reform efforts.  Noting that the standard of academic excellence is lower than that needed for an entry-level manufacturing position, Daggett discussed how our learning institutions must include a more rigorous curriculum applicable to today’s elevated demands.

“Reading a fictional novel is not the same as reading a manual or a contract,” Daggett conceded.  “The world, and especially technology, is changing faster than schools are improving, which has led to students being increasingly less prepared after their studies.”

Stressing that practical knowledge and relevant academic success is key to finding employment in the manufacturing sector, he declared that entry-level manufacturing workers have a higher reading requirement than any other entry-level work in America.

Manufacturing companies are looking to hire, but are unable to find graduates with specialized training and the capacity to perform certain tasks.  Daggett argued that vocational study facilitates employment opportunities for students conferring the skills and knowledge required for a particular job.  Diversifying the education system to include training in specific fields of study would attract more students to the manufacturing sector.

Following the same theme, Joanne Wright, Vice President of Manufacturing at IBM, discussed the modern manufacturing supply chain before Edward Reinfurt gave an in-depth overview of the state’s manufacturing sector.  Reinfurt is the director of Empire State Development Division of Science, Technology and Innovation.  After a brief lunch break, attendees took part in interactive group discussions.

Among the companies represented at the conference was Hudson Valley Technology Development Center (HVTDC), the premier business development group of the Hudson Valley Region.  The Manager of Marketing and Administration, Phyllis Levine, considered Doctor Daggett’s presentation to be the highlight of the conference.  “He brought to life the importance of K-12 students’ awareness of the manufacturing field and how viable and lucrative it can be,” she said.  “Educators need to start teaching toward a career.  Students must realize it’s okay to consider vocational studies, and that manufacturing encompasses much more than mere factory working.”

It is this misconception that irks James Lynch, computer engineer with HVTDC:  “The wide majority of manufacturing has nothing to do with big factory buildings and conveyer belts.  Technology has essentially taken over.  Instead, it is software prototyping — manufacturing small microchips most people don’t even know exist — for things like the iPhone or the Xbox.”

There is no doubt the conference brought new insights about the manufacturing sector and its potential.  It was both informative and timely considering the difficulties facing new graduates as they enter the job market in a difficult economic environment.  Students that attended learned that there are companies searching for employees ready to excel in the manufacturing field.