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Are Parents Out of Touch with Careers in Manufacturing?

This post is authored by Joel Don, ISA's community manager. Connect with Joel at LinkedIn or Twitter, @joeldon.

There’s plenty of concern about the retiring generation of industrial professionals and the potential shortage of skilled workers needed to fill new jobs created by revolutionary advances in automation and manufacturing technology.  Industry leaders remain hyper-focused on the challenges of encouraging high school and college students to pursue industrial careers. But according to a new survey, businesses and organizations that are promoting great careers in industrial automation and manufacturing to young people probably should spend more time reaching out to their parents.

According to the report, parents are not altogether current on the significant career opportunities in manufacturing and they may not be aware of innovations in automation and robotics that have transformed the modern industrial facility into a technological marvel. The research was conducted by SME, a non-profit organization that promotes advanced manufacturing technology and initiatives designed to advance new generations of highly skilled engineers and technicians.



Though most production facilities use advanced technologies and are staffed by employees with specialty training, parents nevertheless perceive the factory floor as “dirty, dark or dangerous” and the manufacturing industry in general as a poor career choice, notes Jeffrey Krause, CEO of SME.

SME enlisted an independent survey company to research the views of 577 U.S. respondents who self-identified as parents of college or school-aged children. Most families (70 percent) reported students currently in college or pre-college (grades 9-12). About 63 percent of the respondents were female. The survey sample covered a wide range of reported family incomes and every region of the country. The margin of error was 5.9 percent

Perhaps the most revealing metric from the survey is that a majority (83 percent) reported no family members work in manufacturing or a trade. That’s a significant factor, suggesting the industrial community must address public relations and education hurdles on the path to attracting young people to manufacturing and related industrial careers.

"The existence of misperceptions about manufacturing has never been a secret. However, it was surprising to see just how strong and misaligned some of those misperceptions are," SME's Krause said, in response to questions from ISA. "Most concerning is parents’ willingness to recommend manufacturing as a career – with just 20 percent viewing it as a good career choice for their child. Manufacturing has changed drastically in even the past 10 years, let alone the last few decades. When parents and mentors see the industry as outdated, dirty and non-challenging, it’s harder to overcome the preconceived notions students may pick up from them."

When parents and mentors see the industry as outdated, dirty and non-challenging, it’s harder to overcome the preconceived notions students may pick up from them. — Jeffrey Krause, CEO of SME

Parents view manufacturing in the black-and-white imagery of the past. They envision grimy and sometimes dangerous jobs, and workers acquiescing to a life of monotonous repetition on the assembly line, mindless boredom and little or no opportunity for advancement. Every generation wants a better life for their children. But the stereotypes about manufacturing from decades-old imagery have fostered a variety of myths invariably stifling awareness of challenging, enriching and financially rewarding career opportunities in a sector where jobs are plentiful. Forget the wrench and the oil can. Your children could be managing sophisticated, industrial-level 3D printers to manufacture parts for the mission to Mars or create the next generation of fuel cells that will dramatically reduce global dependence on fossil fuels. First, we must dispel the myths.

Myth #1: Manufacturing does not pay well

Fact: Technological advancements are resulting in well-paying careers. The average U.S. manufacturing worker makes $77,506 per year. Looking for job security? According to IndustryWeek, an estimated 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be created in the next decade.  What's missing: skilled workers. Aging Baby Boomers are retiring and industry is potentially facing a shortfall of 2 million manufacturing professionals.


manufacturing is well-paying Source: SME survey prompt and tabulated response from 577 respondents


Myth #2: Manufacturing requires education beyond high school

Fact: There are career opportunities for every education level, including trade schools, junior college, bachelor’s degrees, post-graduate, and high school. The opportunity for professional growth and career advancement is substantial considering the shortage of trained workers at all levels. Organizations such as ISA offer a wealth of classroom training, online courses, webinars, books and self-paced computer learning for manufacturing and industrial automation students and workers at all levels. Plus ISA offers professional certification recognized globally. Visit the ISA website for more information on training and certification.


manufacturing does not require education beyond high school Source: SME


Myth #3: Manufacturing is not an exciting, challenging or engaging profession

Fact: Computer-aided engineering software and 3D design are attracting students interested in non-traditional careers such as game design and animatronics. 3D printing is being used to create everything from aircraft parts to custom medical devices. Advances in industrial automation and robotics is dramatically changing the factory floor. There is a high demand for skilled workers to manage the advanced machines and develop new, innovative industry processes. IndustryWeek notes that advances in additive manufacturing, aka 3D printing, are changing the way many products are made, from aircraft parts to made-to-order medical devices. The global 3D printing market is expected to grow from $1.6 billion in 2015 to $13.4 billion in 2018.


manufacturing is exciting-engaging Source: SME


Myth #4: Manufacturing is outdated and/or work in a dirty environment

Fact: Today’s manufacturing facilities look more like clean rooms or science laboratories. Erase the depressing black-and-white images from the Industrial Revolution. Manufacturing is automated, clean and high-tech.


manufacturing is dirty work Source: SME


Mike Rowe, TV personality from the "Dirty Jobs" series on the Discovery Channel, is dedicated to changing the misconceptions and stereotypes about skilled manufacturing jobs. "Why don't people want them?" he asked. "Because for the last 40 to 50 years, we've done a really good job of marginalizing those jobs."


Mike-Rowe-on-skilled-jobs Photo Credit: David S. Holloway/CNN


SME's Krause says it's time for manufacturers to become proactive in their local communities and work to reverse the persistent industry myths.

"Reaching out to local schools and offering work/study co-ops, factory tours and lending support and resources for manufacturing-related courses can give students an opportunity to experience firsthand the challenging and rewarding work available in the industry," he said.

SME also recommends that manufacturing companies should reach out to local school counselors to offer advisory support. The education community needs to be updated on the opportunities and value in a manufacturing career. Companies can also extend "open house" invitations to parents, parent groups and the general public to dispel the negative plant floor stereotypes and showcase modern manufacturing and how it has changed from the negative historical images depicting the ways things were made in prior generations.

"By becoming active advocates at the local level, manufacturers can not only give back to their community, but help secure a talented and engaged future workforce pipeline," Krause added.

What do you think we need to do to change parent stereotypes and misconceptions about industrial automation and manufacturing careers?

Joel Don
Joel Don
Joel Don is an independent content marketing, social media and public relations consultant. Prior to his work in marketing and PR, Joel served as an editor for regional newspapers and national magazines throughout the U.S. He earned a master's degree from the Medill School at Northwestern University with a focus on science, engineering and biomedical marketing communications, and a bachelor of science degree from UC San Diego.

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