OLEAN — Even manufacturers will admit it: A manufacturing job is not always attractive to a young person.
Many likely imagine a low-paid worker doing a menial task over and over again on an assembly line in an unsafe environment.
“In action movies, they always go to a manufacturing facility that’s dark and dingy with all these dangerous machines around trying to hurt people,” said Hugh Freeborn, director of engineering for Cutco Corp. “That’s not the way it is.”
To prove it, local manufacturers like cutlery-maker Cutco opened their doors this week to the people who perhaps influence youth the most: teachers.
Twenty-eight educators from school districts across Cattaraugus and Allegany counties toured 17 local manufacturing facilities over the last few days as part of Summer Teacher STEM Experience.
The annual, weeklong event is put on by Dream It Do Western New York, which is part of the National Association of Manufacturers’ push to support manufacturing workforce development.
The message to teachers: You can feel good encouraging students to go into manufacturing, whether it be as a worker on the production floor or as an engineer working behind the scenes.
“The teacher’s voice is so important,” said Evelyn Sabina, DIDI-WNY project coordinator. “Their voice is so strong and powerful. The more we bring the teachers in, the more the word gets out.”
While local manufacturing has seen hardships, like last year’s closing of Olean Advanced Products and the upcoming closure of the Wellsville Dresser-Rand plant, manufacturers still in business have long argued they can’t seem to find enough workers and expect more openings as their aging workforce retires.
Twenty-eight regional manufacturers said in a recent survey they expect to hire 1,000 full-time employees over the next five years, according to DIDI-WNY board member Chris Napoleon, who led teachers on a tour of his bearing manufacturer, Napoleon Engineering Services, this week.
And while U.S. manufacturing jobs have shrunk by more than six million since 1979, they’ve increased by more than a million in the last decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Quite a few of these places are really hiring,” said Olean High School social studies teacher Carl Kolasny. “I grew up in the Buffalo area in the ’80s and manufacturing was dying. Manufacturing today is completely different.”
The jobs actually seem to pay well, too, Kolasny said. A manufacturing production worker on average makes $22.16 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Kolasny said he was also impressed by the safety standards.
“We don’t have the forges. We don’t have the smelting of the metal. It’s much cleaner and safer,” he said. “One of the factories we toured actually had a (physical therapist) on staff whose job was to make sure ergonomics were better and that workers were not harmed.”
Some teachers were just impressed by what the factories actually make. Dresser-Rand in Olean builds gas turbines used in oil and gas production around the world, while Napoleon Engineering Services crafts custom bearings used in SpaceX rockets.
“A lot of times people think, ‘Oh, there’s nothing here,’” said Hinsdale Central School reading specialist Shayne Huver. “We’re learning there’s some pretty amazing things being done locally.”
Teachers were also shown how their students can land jobs in manufacturing, as they toured Jamestown Community College, Alfred State College and the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford (Pa.).
JCC’s Workforce Readiness Scholarship program semester will offer 26 students a free ride to pursue an associate’s degrees or certificate in manufacturing this upcoming semester.
“It’s one thing to see the skills that are needed,” Sabina said, “but it’s also important to see how they can get those skills.”
But many students don’t even consider manufacturing when thinking about their career prospects, said Pioneer Middle School special education teacher Giorgio LoBianco.
“I think a lot of them just think of it as working in a factory, working in an assembly line, and doing some menial task,” he said. “They don’t understand the high level mathematics background they need to have in order to problem solve on the job.”
Of course, the program wasn’t just about getting students involved in manufacturing. It was also about getting them involved in local manufacturing.
Leah Graves, a job coach for OHS’ life skills classes, said students often want to “go experience the world.” That includes her own son, who is about to leave for his freshman year at Syracuse University.
“I’m like, ‘You’re missing what’s right here,’ but I think he has to go see everything else before he can appreciate what’s here,” she said.
However, Graves said she thinks DIDI-WNY is encouraging more students to stay local, or at least return home after college.
“The interns we’ve all talked to (at the manufacturing facilities) are saying manufacturing came alive to them because of the programs with Dream It Do It,” she said. “I think it’s working.”