How Youth Can Bring Manufacturing Back

March 31, 2016


With manufacturing jobs on the rise, workers should be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills.

The role of manufacturing in the 21st century is stronger than ever and remains vital to sustaining economic growth and prosperity, national security, and technological innovation. However, an aging workforce and advancing technologies have been key contributors to the industry’s scarcity of skilled workers – a shortage that is expected to grow over the next decade.

Industry insiders predict 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will become available in the U.S. by 2025. But because of a significant knowledge gap, manufacturers are facing a whole other dilemma that, if not addressed immediately, will result in unfilled jobs – 2 million in fact.

As baby-boomers head into retirement and technologies become more cutting-edge, there is a greater opportunity for younger people to move into these vacant positions. Despite this promising outlook, the misperception about working in manufacturing – i.e. career options, work environments, and antiquated equipment – keeps many young people from considering this as a career option. So they choose other occupations, further impacting an already growing shortage of skilled manufacturing employees.

A miracle will not solve this issue and waiting for someone or something to save manufacturing is not an option. We must act fast if we want to avoid the impending shortfall of qualified talent needed to sustain the industry.

A miracle will not solve this issue and waiting for someone or something to save manufacturing is not an option. We must act fast if we want to avoid the impending shortfall of qualified talent needed to sustain the industry.

SME works closely with manufacturers to share knowledge, resources, trends, and best practices that generate solutions to meet industry needs – all to promote advanced manufacturing technology and develop a skilled workforce. In 1979, the organization established an education foundation to get more youth involved in the field.

Since its inception, the SME Education Foundation has been committed to advancing the manufacturing industry and stimulating youth interest in STEM education and manufacturing careers. The Foundation invests in students through a broad array of scholarship programs; however, we are also making a direct impact on manufacturing education through our Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME®) program.

PRIME provides high school students with opportunities to pursue rewarding careers as engineers and technologists; this includes vocations involving mechatronics, welding, CNC programming, robotics, and much more. Through PRIME, schools have access to real-life manufacturing curricula, teachers receive industry-driven training, and students gain practical experience using state-of-the-art tools and equipment deployed in industry. Additionally, students and teachers have a chance to engage with manufacturing companies in their local communities.

PRIME’s success is due in part to its consultative approach of engaging regional manufacturers to identify their current and future workforce development needs and then working with local school districts to design and implement customized educational programs to meet these requirements. With over 185 manufacturing partners now engaged with this network, PRIME reaches more than 7,000 students annually.

Currently, the PRIME network consists of 38 high schools in 22 states, and approximately 90 percent of students who graduated from the program in 2015 are now pursuing careers in manufacturing. 

To amplify PRIME’s influence and preparation of students for successful manufacturing careers and building the talent pool so desperately needed by industry, the Foundation is working to expand this network by 100 additional schools over the next five years.

By working together with manufacturers, PRIME helps fill the pipeline of qualified workers in a community. This initiative provides companies with access to a highly skilled and educated local workforce, addressing one of the most critical elements of success for future growth and innovation. Through PRIME, companies can play an active role in the development of a trained future workforce tailored to meet their needs.

Partnering with PRIME not only benefits students, educators, schools, and communities, but it also allows companies to fulfill two key business objectives: achieve corporate citizenship goals and meet workforce development needs.

Bringing the manufacturing sector back to prominence is a priority for SME and the SME Education Foundation, and incorporating programs like PRIME into this industry’s landscape will help us all make major strides in shaping America’s economic vitality.

To learn more about sponsoring a PRIME high school, visit


Brian Glowiak is director of the SME Education Foundation.