How students, parents and adults in general view manufacturing is changing for the better, as word spreads about the careers available, wages earned, and the settings in which employees work.

“Perception of manufacturing is improving,” said Allan Cronen, chairman and chief executive officer of GVL Poly, located north of Litchfield on U.S. Highway 12.

“Technology and automation have helped increase interest in manufacturing,” he said.

Interest is starting younger, as high schools and middle schools introduce students to a variety of careers.

“High schools are helping students explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), manufacturing, and technical careers more today than in the 1990s and early 2000s. I hope this will help increase the number of students enrolling in technical programs. I believe we have positive momentum in technical education,” Cronen said. “Many area manufacturers are excited to have relationships with the school districts.”

Working with schools

Hutchinson High School is nearing completion of its Technical Education Center, which is being equipped with more than $1.2 million in equipment from local manufacturers. Ridgewater College is a big part of that training as well, as it is working with the high school’s new TigerPath Academies.

“The implementation of the Tiger Path Program and the addition to Hutchinson High School is one of the loudest signals our community could send in support of manufacturing,” said Eric Lipke, president of Midwest Industrial Too Grinding Inc.

“We were very proud to see so many different parts of the community work together to achieve the goal, including: school administration and staff, business leaders, EDA (Economic Development Authority), Chamber of Commerce, students, parents, and community members,” Lipke said. “The support for this program, both in time and dollars, shows how important manufacturing is to this community.”

Attention will be focused on manufacturers during Manufacturing Week, Oct. 1-7, and on Manufacturing Day, Oct. 6, which recognize the contributions manufacturers make to Minnesota’s economy.

“Manufacturers form the bedrock of many Minnesota communities. They offer high-wage, high-skill jobs that create economic opportunity and stability for the present and future,” said Bob Kill, president and chief executive officer of Enterprise Minnesota, a certified consulting organization that works to increase awareness and appreciation of manufacturing among community leaders, local economic developers, educators, policymakers and regulators.

A growing industry

Minnesota is home to nearly 8,000 manufacturers making a wide range of products.

Moreover, manufacturing is growing in Minnesota, with employment rising almost 9 percent since 2010, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“Over the past decade MITGI has experienced extraordinary growth,” said Jennie Nelson, MITGI director of sales and marketing.

The company that started in 1993 had three employees by 2001. In 2010, the manufacturer moved from its 2,000-square-foot facility in Stewart to a 20,000-square-foot plant in Hutchinson. Today, MITGI staff comprises more than 70 full- and part-time employees.

MITGI manufactures and markets standard and custom carbide cutting tools used in many research and development departments and manufacturing facilities that serve the medical, automotive, aerospace, and rapid prototyping industries.

Likewise, GVL Poly has grown since it was founded in 1992. The manufacturer has expanded its Litchfield plant to more than 50,000 square feet and added a second facility in 2014 of almost the same size in Hesston, Kansas.

GVL manufactures rotational molded polyethylene parts for the agricultural, industrial and commercial industries. GVL covers design, tool building and production, as well as engineering and 3D FDM printing.

Despite their success, the key concern many manufacturers express is the lack of a trained workforce.

“Skilled employees are hard to find. Significant work is being done to address this issue,” Cronen said. “On-the-job skills training, working with community and technical colleges, and employee retention programs are some of the areas of focus to improve the situation.”

In Minnesota, manufacturing paid the second largest payroll in 2015. The average annual wage for manufacturing jobs was $63,236, 15 percent higher than the average wage for all industries, according to DEED.

“Careers in manufacturing typically pay well and are stable,” Cronen said.

Careers available

While there are 322,000 Minnesotans who work in manufacturing, there are more than 6,500 open manufacturing jobs in Minnesota, according to DEED.

“There are lots of types of careers in manufacturing and it’s not always a direct path to get here,” said Lipke. “At MITGI, there are many factors that help determine whether a person is a good fit for our company. Skills, experience, talents, and education are all factors when considering a new candidate. We also place a high value on character, hard work, and how well a person fits into our team. We offer paid job shadowing as a way for potential employees ... and for all of us to assess whether the person, job, and environment are a match.”

Cronen’s advice to adults or students who are considering a career in manufacturing is to visit local manufacturers to learn more.

“If you have interest in manufacturing — or have no experience in manufacturing — contact a local manufacturer and inquire about a tour. Many are happy to have a human resources representative talk to you and give a tour,” Cronen said. “Manufacturing is a rewarding career.”