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Recruiting Manager Ryan Ellis preps students from Max S. Hayes High School for a tech-filled, hands-on tour through Lincoln Electric's training and production facilities during IndustryWeek's Cleveland Mfg. Day event.

Bridging the Gap: Lessons from Manufacturing Day 2019

Despite concerns over the widening skills gap and the haunting fears of generational change, the lesson from manufacturing day 2019 was clear: The kids are doing just fine.

As we see it here at IndustryWeek, the future of U.S. manufacturing depends squarely on the ability to break through the gap—to recruit, train and retain a new generation of workers to take up the torch and shape the industry into whatever the future demands.

Every year, when factory doors swing open on Manufacturing Day and the world peeks in to marvel at the progress, there seems genuine hope that this will succeed. And that's an effort we proudly support at IndustryWeek, using our platform to help amplify the impact of all these tours and events occurring around the country and to tell the story of the manufacturing superstars at the heart of it.

But this year, we did things a little different.

This Manufacturing Day (October 4, 2019), we finally took direct action. My Cleveland team and I spent the day with over 70 high school students from across the city, touring plants, having discussions, playing with tools and technologies, and exposing the new generation to the real state of U.S. manufacturing.

This is an odd thing for a trade publication to do, I suppose. Our job is usually to write stories, to share best practices and document effective strategies. Direct action seems a bit out of bounds, traditionally speaking. And it is. But we were testing a theory.

For nearly 50 years, IndustryWeek has been successfully documenting the struggles of generational change, of the waning interest among the youth, of the lost knowledge from the retiring pros, and of the ever-widening skills gap that results. Fifty years of successful coverage, sure, but the issues persist. So, we thought, maybe we can do more than just write about the problem. Maybe we can help do something about it.

So that's what we did. In partnership with Applied Industrial Technologies and with the help of an army of partners—ABB, SKF, Lincoln Electric, Foseco, Siemens, Team NEO/Delta Dental, Air Technical Industries, MAGNET and MTD just to name a few—and a very fuzzy understanding of the logistics for transporting gangs of minors, we put together a simple, five-hour event just to test the waters. If there is interest in closing the skills gap, if there's interest in changing the industry, if there's hope in inspiring the new generation, this would tell us.

And tell us it did.

We recruited students for precisely two hours before we hit max capacity. The rest of the day was spent turning schools down and referring them to other events around the city. It was an avalanche of interest. If there is a generational problem in the manufacturing industry, it sure doesn't seem to be on the kids' end.

Likewise, every plant we contacted threw its doors open to us, excited and eager for the opportunity to take part. We eventually had to turn down interest there, too, just so this thing didn't spiral too far out of hand. To me, that suggests the generational problem isn't on the companies' end either.

So where's the problem? The market seems primed for the shift—the kids are interested in the industry, the industry is interested in the kids. Everything is prepped and ready, we just need to take action.

Part of it, of course, comes back to those old problems—active recruiting, robust training, knowledge transfer, and bridging the generational divide so we really can pass the torch. As luck would have it, we're addressing these concerns here as well. And we took that one step further, too.

Two recent features on IndustryWeek—"Merging Cultures" and "Why Can't Manufacturing Sell Itself to Millennials?"—were written by recent IndustryWeek interns. Which is to say, rather than guessing what millennials want and need for the future, we had a couple of actual millennials document it themselves.

This, I think, is a fundamental step in closing the gap. And it's one that may be worth modeling.

Given half a chance, the new generation is ready and willing to do spectacular things—whether that's writing an article or learning a trade or mastering new technologies. It is our job as the current torchbearers to give them that chance.

For evidence of this, I invite you to check out our coverage of our Manufacturing Day 2019 event, which you can find here: IndustryWeek: Manufacturing Day 2019. It's clear that this is only the beginning of the conversation, just one small spark in a movement. But I walked away from the day with a sense of optimism I haven't felt in a long time. This kids are incredible. If we don't mess things up too much, the future they build in this industry will be incredible, too.

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