July 18, 2016
By Bill Hohlfeld
Yonkers, New York – We’ve all heard the lamentations of friends and family, and maybe even wallowed in them ourselves; “We don’t make anything here anymore,” or “All the good jobs have been shipped overseas.
But, to loosely paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of manufacturing’s death are greatly exaggerated. While it is undeniably true that over the past few decades, America has hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs at an alarming rate, it is also true that much to the surprise of many Americans, the United States is still the second largest manufacturer in the world. And, a fair share of that manufacturing goes on right here in New York State. What’s more, that sector of our economy is in need of skilled workers. That creates an opportunity for workers young and old to train or retrain for good jobs with salaries that can sustain a middle class life style.
At least that is the message that was delivered by Harold King, Executive Vice President of the Council of Industry, when he spoke to a coalition of business, labor, education, government and community groups last Friday. The various participants had gathered in a conference room in the offices of State Senator Andrea Stewart- Cousin’s office in Yonkers, a stone’s throw from the Kawasaki Rail Car plant, for a discussion on “The State of Manufacturing in New York State and Hudson Valley.” The conference was arranged and coordinated by Sonja Brown and Christine Leone of the Workforce Development Institute, as part of their ongoing and tireless effort to, as their mission statement proclaims, “improve the lives of working men and women across New York State by developing regional solutions to workforce, economic, and community development challenges.”
With a refreshing absence of false altruism or euphemistic double talk, Mr. King presented his organization as “pro-business and pro-growth,” yet was quick to reveal that the people who join his council are people who want to do the right thing. The good news of his message was that manufacturing is strong in New York, especially in the mid -Hudson Valley. The not so good news, at least for manufacturers, is a shortage of skilled workers to work in their businesses. Mr. King was candid about the manufacturing community’s short sightedness in not being more proactive about training the next generation of employees. He was also clear, however, that having recognized that error they are are working overtime to correct it.
First off, there is an image problem. Suffice it to say that few factories today look very much like the dreary images most of us tend to conjure up. By contrast, today’s high tech production plants are more ergonomically and environmentally safe than those of yore. And, the skill levels needed to participate in this segment of our economy are a good deal more sophisticated than those needed by the average assembly line worker of half a century ago.
So, outreach is important. Local BOCES and community colleges throughout the state are being brought in to the dialogue so that curriculum
and course offerings are better suited to the needs of manufacturing. Career pathways through high school and community college levels with
seamless transfer to the study of disciplines such as nano- technology and mechanical engineering at the university level are in need of exploration. Revisiting how our veterans’ military training relates to private industry must also be in the forefront.
The bottom line is that in many communities in our state, manufacturing accounts for as much as 20% of private income. Any industry that is
capable of providing good wages for one out of every five of its residents needs to be not only recognized but nurtured. Truthfully, all the moving parts already exist. With the proper attention paid to details, there is no reason that those parts should not mesh together to become a finely tuned engine that helps drive our economy.
Mr. King shared with us what are considered to be the five key components in becoming a successful manufacturer. They are: a passion for what you do, a commitment to excellence, a willingness to innovate, the ability to focus on the task at hand, and the persistence to see the task through. Kudos to both the Council of Industry and the Workforce Development Institute for having demonstrated to us all those qualities thus far.
For more information regarding career paths in manufacturing, contact either Christine Leone, email@example.com or Sonja Brown, firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call the offices of Workforce Development Institute at (914) 231 9670.