Manufacturing in America – More Than a Day

Manufacturing Day is not the kind of annual “day” that lends itself to a greeting card. But the first Friday in October is an important opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the significant role of modern manufacturing in the health of our nation and our collective future. Honda is proud to support and participate in this important recognition. 

The reality is that for Honda, and thousands of other companies across America, large and small, a crisis is nearing in terms of our ability to acquire the talent required for the manufacturing workforce of the 21st Century.  Some studies estimate that nearly 2.8 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled by 2028. This is due to rapid changes in technology in our products and the processes used to build them, but also the need to better engage and prepare the next generation of workers for a career in manufacturing. 

This should be a concern to us all, because these are good paying jobs with good benefits that will support families, communities and our economy. 

At Honda, we believe our future will be defined by the successful interaction between our workforce and technology.  For our associates, we've created technical development centers to provide opportunities for training and advancement within our company, while helping ensure they are properly equipped to tackle the challenges of a changing manufacturing environment.

But after building automobiles in America for nearly 40 years, veteran members of the team, especially all-important manufacturing technicians, are retiring.  So, our success relies heavily on the next generation, and we need an educated and skilled workforce to produce the high-quality products our customers expect from Honda. 

We face three critical challenges to our ability to fill these positions in the future:

Perception.  Many young people don't look at manufacturing as an exciting career.  Moreover, studies show that many parents actually steer their children away from manufacturing.  We also are competing for students looking at an IT pathway who don't realize that IT is one of the core skills we need. 

We have worked to engage K-12 students from a number of perspectives.  This has included novel efforts such as a video game we helped create that asks students to solve problems using real-world math skills within a virtual environment of our engine plant in Ohio.  You see, manufacturing can be cool!

STEM Skills.  Even when students become interested in manufacturing, a lack of STEM education means many won't have the problem-solving, computer knowledge or math skills to handle the complexity of modern manufacturing.  For example, we are on the verge of introducing smart technology tools like collaborative robots into our facilities. In addition to helping build our products, these robots have vision that will enable us to collect data that can be analyzed using AI to automatically make programming adjustments. 

But few schools, especially those in higher diverse populations, have adequate funding to deliver manufacturing-related career content such as robotic learning to prepare students for this kind of high tech environment. 

That's why we hosted a STEM event for a group of male, middle school students of color from the city of Columbus.  I asked a number of diverse Honda associates to join the meeting.  These students need to see the possibility of STEM-based careers by meeting people in the world of manufacturing who look like them and can share insights on how they got into the field.

As a Black American and the first member of my family to earn a college degree, helping students in this situation is a particular passion for me.  This is why I want to create more programs and opportunities for people of color and women who haven't been adequately exposed to the field of manufacturing.   

Technical Education.  In our experience, it will be impossible to meet the challenge of preparing the manufacturing workforce of the 21st Century without industry-sector partnerships involving collaboration between manufacturers and the education community.

However, due to the rapid advance of modern production technologies, we must work to ensure that the curriculums are well-aligned with employers.  This is how these technical education programs can really address the growing manufacturing skills gap.   

Industry sector partnerships involve collaboration that helps educators learn our needs and develop solutions that are critical to filling this gap.  As chair of the Workforce Leadership Committee of the Ohio Manufacturing Association, I have worked with leaders of 14 different sector partnerships from across the state to help schools establish and deliver training programs for young people and create a networking system to enable job seekers to begin manufacturing careers. 

For the past seven years, Honda has also partnered with Columbus State College on a technical work-study program that gives students the chance to develop skills required for the manufacturing technician positions. These technicians are vital to our operations because they keep our production equipment running. 

Over the course of the five-semester program, students earn a paycheck, a debt-free degree and, for many, a full-time job at the technician level after successful completion of the program.  Honda generally hires eight to 10 students per year with an overall conversion rate of about 70 percent over the life of the program with a 95% retention of those hired.

This has been so successful at Columbus State, that they're no longer just supporting Honda.  They now work with over 30 manufacturing companies in Central Ohio. Moreover, they adapted the work-study initiative to other programs, including in the IT area.

Workforce development at all levels is an imperative to our efforts to meet the challenges of the 21st century of manufacturing.  In that sense, our support of Manufacturing Day is enlightened self-interest.  But for Honda and thousands of other manufacturers in this country, every day is manufacturing day.  That's why we will remain focused on attracting and preparing the kinds of skilled associates who will represent our manufacturing workforce of the future.