The Future of Manufacturing Starts With Education

The children are our future. Whitney Houston knew it. Nelson Mandela knew it. And American manufacturers finally realize it.
In our current culture, driven by convenience and technology, manufacturing and other vocational workers have become more and more scarce. Many high schools have ceased to offer shop classes as electives, and technical schools still retain some of the unfair stigmas associated with non-college track schooling. Contrary to people’s detrimental beliefs, technical schools provide students with unique learning experiences and transferable knowledge, not to mention many opportunities for further education. As a result of misconceptions and the de-emphasis of vocational schooling and careers, the American manufacturing industry is suffering from a desperately high demand for trained and skilled workers and a painfully low supply of the same.


Fortunately, one recent suture for this yawning wound is being tested out in numerous secondary schools throughout Connecticut.

The Connecticut Solution

For many years, CT manufacturers and conglomerates, including Lockheed Martin, United Technologies Corp., and Electric Boat (a subsidiary of General Dynamics Corp.), have been lamenting the worker shortage. Regardless, each of these companies plans to ramp up their output significantly each year. These plans have caused an increased demand for trained individuals in machining, computer design, and additive manufacturing, among many others. For some time, it looked bleak – until now.
Sikorsky Aircraft, a Stratford helicopter-maker subsidiary of renowned defense manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and the Teamsters union, which represents over 4,000 of Sikorsky’s employees, have announced a revolutionary aircraft manufacturing pre-apprenticeship initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.
This eight-week pre-apprenticeship program allows students to apply their work and study certified hours to any aerospace manufacturer and achieve an industry-recognized credential, which will help them get jobs in this growing and in-demand industry. Registered apprentices learn occupational skills on-the-job and are required to take additional classes throughout the program totaling about 150 hours in the classroom. Depending on the occupation, these apprenticeships can last from one to five years.
Sikorsky and the Teamsters have begun recruiting at high schools and vocational schools, touting the main criteria for the program:

  • Attendance
  • Attitude
  • Community Service
  • Grades

The Vice President of Production Operation at Sikorsky Aircraft, George Witchell, explains that “Attendance” is essential, while “Grades” are the last criterion for a reason. Master mechanics can build and rebuild complex machinery and perform other challenging tasks with minimal effort – something that cannot be said about many American workers today. In the face of that distinction, the fact that they may not be good test-takers becomes immaterial.
This new spin on education is quickly changing age-old priorities, favoring passion, commitment, and experience over multiple choice and short answer questions. For manufacturing, the citadels for education are no longer the brick-and-mortar schools, but the work itself.

What the Future Holds for Manufacturing

Thirty years ago, 300,000 jobs manufacturing jobs were posted in the state of Connecticut. In July 2019, the state posted a paltry 160,600 jobs – barely over half the 1990 numbers. Although this looks bad, there has actually been a remarkable comeback since the low point in 2014. With the conglomerates making more ambitious goals and pre-apprenticeships becoming more popular, the numbers are on the rise.
The increase in trained and skilled workers entering the manufacturing industry is heartening to many CT locals and companies, but it does more than that. It showcases the symbiotic relationship between education and the workforce. Whether students are looking to attend these pre-apprenticeships to get a leg up in manufacturing job market or employed individuals are attempting to supplement their professional development with a Six Sigma Black Belt certification, the relationship between education and occupation success is apparent.
For more information about vocational apprenticeships or any PD certifications from project management to Six Sigma Black Belt, contact us at the Management and Strategy Institute today!