Parents Muddled on STEM and Manufacturing

Even as the manufacturing segment struggles to make a comeback in this country, those efforts face a generational obstacle: Parents today aren't necessarily thrilled about the prospects for their children working in factories.

One in five parents, according to a recent survey, thinks that manufacturing jobs:

  • Pay minimum wage salaries (21 percent);
  • Lack benefits (21 percent); and
  • Are short on innovative, intellectually stimulating work (22 percent).

Actually, the average annual salary for entry-level manufacturing engineers is $60,000; nine in 10 manufacturing workers have medical benefits; and they also have the highest job tenure in the private sector, according to data from the United States Department of Commerce.

Nearly nine in 10 parents (89 percent) estimate the average hourly wage for manufacturing jobs at $22 an hour or less; according to the Manufacturing Institute, the industry average is actually $34.

The misperceptions surfaced in a survey run by the Alcoa Foundation and nonprofit SkillsUSA. The latter is an organization focused on the promotion of career and technical education. Survey company Toluna ran the online survey earlier this year among 1,035 American parents of children ages 6-17. The margin of error for a sample of this size is ± 3 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence.

Overall, nine in 10 parents said they worry about their child's future career options, and 87 percent said they believe that science, technology, engineering and math education are "critical" for economic success. Yet a third also reported they don't think jobs in the manufacturing or trade industries require a college education and only 12 percent consider jobs in manufacturing to be "recession proof."

"Parents have some awareness about manufacturing careers, but there are still looming misperceptions about the robust, exciting prospects for their sons and daughters, especially as more than half of manufacturers see a shortage of manufacturing talent," said Tim Lawrence, executive director of SkillsUSA. "Students have plenty of options to explore within the field of STEM education and manufacturing careers, and can earn strong wages and benefits."

Alcoa Foundation has given a $250,000 grant to SkillsUSA to support a team of students and professionals at the biannual WorldSkills Competition, running this week in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The education event brings competitors from around the world to perform specific tasks in their professional areas, from aircraft maintenance and architectural stonemasonry to wall and floor tiling and welding. About 1,000 students, ages 17-22, are competing in almost 50 contests.

This is the first time U.S. students will compete in the manufacturing team challenge, in which teams of three perform CAD/CAM exercises, design and make components required for the task and carry out the assembly process defined by the project. The goal is optimize the manufacturing process to reduce cycle times and costs and waste.

"Technology shifts and increasing investments in advanced manufacturing are creating a worldwide demand for students who are able to solve complex problems," said Esra Ozer, president of Alcoa Foundation. "Industry needs a strong talent pipeline, and [the foundation's] support of nonprofit partners like SkillsUSA is helping to spark students' understanding of what's possible in manufacturing careers."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.