Choose your own adventure

By Lauren Duensing

December 2012 - Time travel is possible. A scent, a song, a meal at a restaurant can dredge up happy and sad memories of days gone by. I recently visited an old college haunt. It hadn’t changed a whole lot. The food tasted the same, they still accept only cash to pay for your meal and the tiny, cramped tables were full of students. Those students, however, were a lot younger than they used to be. 

Although the company across the table was the same, the conversation was different. Instead of discussing impending term papers and exams, upcoming sporting events or roommates, we reminisced about the best times of those college days: favorite classes, favorite professors and favorite memories. 

College is a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The story starts at the beginning with orientation, where a student is faced with a series of choices. Those choices lead to more choices, with the eventual path focused on a major. Sometimes there are fits and starts: A difficult calculus class might cause a student to rethink a previous interest in computer science or another student might choose to complete a majority of the prerequisites for an economics, physics and math major, just to help him or her decide on a course of study. There’s no right path. There are pros to exploring a vast range of subjects and cons to a laser-focused approach. 

The decision is easier, however, when a student (either in high school or college) has the opportunity to look at all the options. One of the topics at this year’s Fabtech show, which was held last month in Las Vegas, was the skills gap, especially when it comes to welders, engineers and technicians. There has been some disagreement recently about the exact number of unfilled openings, but whether the number is closer to 100,000 or 600,000, it’s still imperative to present the option of a manufacturing career to interested students. 

Monica Pfarr, corporate director for workforce development at the American Welding Society, spoke at Lincoln Electric’s Fabtech press conference, detailing several initiatives, such as comic books, job boards, career guidance and a traveling welding trailer, all aimed at sparking students’ interest and helping them realize their dream of a welding career.

In addition, more companies and trade associations are partnering with community colleges, trade schools, high schools and traditional four-year universities to bolster knowledge of manufacturing jobs. This month’s cover story discusses the wealth creation potential of these manufacturing jobs and what companies are looking for when deciding to locate operations in certain parts of the United States. Excitement is building for the manufacturing industry, and I look forward to talking with our readers about both bright spots and concerns for our upcoming annual consuming industries survey, which will appear in next month’s edition. MM

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