Manufacturing will have 4M job openings in next decade — here’s how state, NJMEP are trying to fill them

Road-show tour of counties aims to introduce sector to middle-schoolers and up in effort to create pipeline of talent

There was a hands-on presentation that showed just how cool a 3D printer is. Others offered the opportunity to try augmented reality welding equipment — or the ability to operate robotic arms.

Was it the coolest demonstration in the Pleasantville Public Schools this year? Probably.

Was it a spark that will inspires a future career for some of the students, now in grades 7-10? Possibly.

That’s the aim of the Future Makers & Creators Tour, a new initiative by the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, which this week launched a 21-county road show intended to introduce — and potentially inspire — the next generation of workers for a career in advanced manufacturing in the state.

The initiative, organized in conjunction with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, made its first stop at Pleasantville High School.

More than 600 students and school officials heard from industry leaders and partners. Local South Jersey manufacturers, such as Edmund Optics in Barrington and Bellview Winery in Landisville were on-site to talk about their specific industries and provide students with a window into what an advanced manufacturing career can provide.

How many kids were hooked won’t be known for years. This much is clear today: There is a real need for their services.

Manufacturing is expected to have nearly 4 million job vacancies over the next decade — all of which come with strong wages and benefits. And they are not the type of factory-line manufacturing positions from years gone by.

That is the point of the tour, NJMEP CEO Peter Connolly said.

“Connecting with students who have yet to make up their minds about a career path is invaluable when showing the real value the manufacturing industry has to offer them and their families,” he said. “The first stop on the Future of Makers & Creators Tour proved that young students are interested and can be incredibly engaged when learning about this field that’s so vital to our way of life and our nation.”

Connolly thinks the first stop was a hit.

“Seeing these students smile and watching their eyes be opened to advanced manufacturing as they tried their hand at augmented reality welding, experienced 3D printing in action, and connected directly with local manufacturers was beyond amazing,” he said.

MEP Chief Strategy Officer Torsten Schimanski agreed. The event was eye-opening, he said.

“The Future Makers & Creators Tour is our chance to finally show why manufacturing matters and how the industry has evolved,” he said. “Students might not be aware of the incredible career opportunities that await them in their hometown.

“Connecting schools, students, parents and manufacturers is the only way the nation will be able to rebuild its manufacturing workforce while at the same time giving children access to a path that will lead them to a prosperous future.”

Want to participate?

The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program and New Jersey Economic Development Authority are looking for more host schools and more manufacturing partners. Call 973-998-9801 for more information, or click here.

Andy Kuhn, a senior project officer at the NJEDA, made that very pitch.

“Manufacturing can be your ticket to financial and personal freedom,” he told the crowd. “There are opportunities in manufacturing right here in your backyard.”

Kuhn said the groups put together the program to help students of all ages to understand the opportunities available to them in their communities, he said.

That’s the point of the road show, Connolly said. He’s eager to visit additional counties in 2024.

“With help from the NJEDA, we are able to make an impression on younger students who have yet to decide their path in life,” he said. “These 7th– through 10th-graders are being shown the true face of manufacturing and will be introduced to employers in their area.

“This is the time where showing alternative career options can genuinely impact their decision-making when it comes to choosing what they’d like to do after high school.”