10 skills that can launch a fulfilling manufacturing career

September 27, 2014

The U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings, published earlier this month, contains this eye-popper: Columbia University will charge incoming freshmen $51,000 in tuition and fees for one year.

Here in Minnesota, Carleton College in Northfield, Macalester College in St. Paul, St. Olaf College in Northfield, and Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter all cost in excess of $40,000 annually. State colleges and universities have also increased tuition and fees.

These numbers rise each year, along with the blood pressure of parents who shoulder the financial burden of higher education. No doubt it's standing room only at the financial aid office.

There's good news though: Minnesota manufacturing companies like mine are investing big-time in education and training for high school graduates who have the right preparation.

What's driving this trend? IT, automotive, construction, health care and manufacturing companies have good-paying positions open — but very few qualified applicants.

Technology educators in Minnesota have become more aware of the opportunities that manufacturers now offer, and are steering their programs toward manufacturing skill sets.

Delroy Nyren, career and technology educator for White Bear Lake Area High School, believes that manufacturing careers now have much more to offer than in the past.

"Manufacturing is so much more appealing than it was 10 or 20 years ago," Nyren said. "Perceptions of manufacturing are changing. It can be a wonderful career."

Nyren said White Bear Lake schools back his efforts to gear curriculum toward the technology and skills that manufacturers seek.

At EJ Ajax, the workforce development program has been active for 16 years. We're training a new generation of highly-skilled manufacturing pros. Our young people are provided with an effective, diverse training program to help them achieve their next level of professional skill.

I recommend the following 10 common sense job skills that all high school grads should bring to the table.

1. Perfect attendance: Be where you are supposed to be ahead of time, every time. Get in the habit of arriving 15 minutes early. Think of it this way: If you're not at least 10 minutes early, you're five minutes late. Young people who demonstrate this attitude, and the self-discipline that goes with it, will advance ahead of those who straggle in.

2. Drug and alcohol avoidance: Many employers retain third-party labs to randomly test applicants and incumbent colleagues for substance abuse. Before being considered for a job at my company, every applicant is tested for drugs. Each employer has its own tolerance policy, but generally, one fail is all it takes to get bounced out of a choice program.

3. Listening and following instructions: Companies devote a lot of time and effort to writing procedure manuals and training. Why? Because when employees follow procedures, things get done right. If procedures are ignored, mistakes are likely. Sometime these mistakes create personal safety hazards. This is especially true in manufacturing, where the devil is in the details.

4. Math, science and mechanical aptitudes: Many young people are not fully aware of their math skills. All they know is that they think it's not always fun. And admittedly, math and science can be acquired tastes. A good educator can make these skills fun to learn, and high school is an absolute bargain compared to college.

5 . Critical thinking skills: Speed and precision are extremely important in modern manufacturing. Employers value people who can think on their feet and make solid, confident recommendations.

6. Working effectively on a diverse team: Like winning sports teams, manufacturers need their colleagues to work together toward a common goal. Being a good teammate is the first step toward becoming a good leader. What temperament do employers seek? The type that can disagree without being disagreeable. Theses are the people who succeed in a team environment.

7. Problem solving: Manufacturers prize problem solvers, especially those who can innovate and thrive in an environment that requires continuous improvement. Hiring more problem-solvers is how top manufacturers put their competitors in the rear view mirror.

8. Life-long learning: Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Technology is evolving too quickly to rely on skills learned a decade ago. Employers want people who are willing to hone their skills and expand their abilities. That means continuing education classes, reading, and homework from time to time instead of watching television.

9. Strong communication skills: Self-expression is gifted to some, but the skill can be taught and learned. The ability to speak comfortably to large and small groups is huge. Mirror practice pays off. Effective writing skills, optimized for devices and social media, are mandatory.

10. Dependability: Managers don't have time to be nannies. They want people who follow through on assignments and projects with minimal oversight. Those who work hardest when the boss is not around are the ones who excel. Students and employees of this type will always have opportunities to choose from.