By Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC
There’s no better time than October – aka Manufacturing Month –to recognize and promote manufacturing, yet it’s something NWIRC does all year long. Manufacturing has been the heart of Pennsylvania’s economic engine for more than 250 years, now ranked the 8th largest manufacturing state in the nation. In 2021, manufacturing contributed roughly $113.2 billion to the state’s Gross Domestic Products (13% of the PA’s economic output) making it the largest economic sector in the Commonwealth. Some 14,000 manufacturing companies employ 562,700 people (nearly 1 out of every 10 workers in the state).
Because of the rich history, many think more about what manufacturing used to be and not enough about its emergence as a source of technological innovation, great career opportunities, and economic foundation for many smaller communities – this according to the Pennsylvania Manufacturing Advisory Council’s (PA MAC) and I wholeheartedly agree.
Back in January, PA MAC started an initiative to develop the PA Manufacturing Competitiveness Playbook for the next Governor, his cabinet, and the General Assembly to use for establishing new policy and legislation. The recently released Playbook is the product of focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and surveys with over 500 manufacturers. I had the opportunity to facilitate a focus group with manufacturers from our region to gain critical insights and perspectives for the Playbook. The 70-page document offers 3 game changers with 10 recommendations. Here are just a few of the recommendation categories that validate initiatives already underway in northwestern PA that NWIRC is either leading or in collaboration with regional partners.
Strengthen regional manufacturing workforce pipelines
Awareness is at the forefront of developing a robust talent pipeline Creating opportunities for students of all ages to explore manufacturing career pathways is important to help them make informed decisions about careers, future education, and training. Each year, NWIRC plans several initiatives to support the mission of National MFG Day in October. This month, in addition to coordinating facility tours for students, we are again hosting ‘Exploring the Marvels of Manufacturing’ – a program for 6-12 grade students that involves viewing What’s So Cool About Manufacturing videos and completing a career exploration activity worksheet. For a special twist, we’ll feature a social media campaign – each day showcasing career paths of a different local manufacturing superhero.
Training in automation to upskill incumbent employees and attract new employees to manufacturing careers
NWIRC continues to help several schools in the region to develop or enhance their student-run manufacturing enterprise – a program that provides students the opportunity to produce real parts for local manufacturing companies and work every aspect of a manufacturing company. In addition, our collaboration with regional partners to launch the Uniquely Abled Academy at Crawford Tech in Meadville is upskilling an untapped talent pool. This CNC training program is geared for individuals with high-functioning autism. We are looking to launch a UAA in Erie in the very near future and have our sights on other areas of the region as well.
Raise the visibility and impact of regional, private sector-led partnerships GR8T Manufacturing is the ‘next gen sector partnership’ for the 8 counties of northwest PA. Although activity slowed down the last few years due to pandemic, meetings rebooted this past June, with the next meeting scheduled for October 5th at Acutec Precision in Meadville. GR8T Manufacturing has 3 priority action teams, including 1) branding the region, 2) B2B Connections, and 3) promoting manufacturing careers.
Connect vulnerable companies to local opportunities to grow more competitive clusters and strengthen supply chains
This recommendation category exemplifies the work of GR8T Manufacturing’s B2B Connections action team. They had a vision of connecting regional manufacturers via an online platform to do work with one another, as well as for those outside of the area to find them. The B2B website, https://tristatemanufacturers.com/Manufacturers.com, is now reality and there are already some great success stories of companies getting connected.
Support manufacturers as they transition to high-retention work environments
We are hearing that the biggest challenge today is finding people to work. It’s more important than ever for companies to retain the employees they have and create a culture to attract new talent. NWIRC’s employee development specialists have a pivotal role in helping companies improve their workplace to become an ‘employer of choice’ via culture assessments, training assessments and development plans, as well as special onsite training and coaching for supervisors and new leaders.
All of us at NWIRC salute the manufacturers in our 13-county footprint, especially those who are hosting activities to inspire the next generation during Manufacturing Month 2022!