How manufacturing in California will remain part of our economic future

580 200 Ed Coghlan

(Photo Credit: emirkrasnic/Pixabay)

California’s manufacturing sector has long been viewed as a ticket to the middle class. While there are fewer manufacturing jobs than existed a generation ago, they still are vitally important of California’s economy. Earlier this month, thousands of students visited manufacturing plants in California to learn about the industry and the job opportunities it offers.

“There are close to 1.3 million Californians working in manufacturing today. Manufacturing is still a huge sector and that is why we are investing in Strong Workforce Programs to create a pipeline of trained and qualified employees,” said Jose Anaya, sector navigator for advanced manufacturing for the California Community Colleges.

October is Manufacturing Awareness Month in California—and people are learning that manufacturing will continue to play a major role in California’s economic future.

In Madera County for instance, the enthusiasm for manufacturing has been growing.

“For the last four years the Madera County Compact has been working with its members and local manufacturers to participate in the National Manufacturing Day event which is a wonderful way to educate students about the Advanced Manufacturing Career Pathway. It helps inspire them to begin planning, even while in high school, about what to do now to prepare for this workforce opportunity,” said Kathy Woods, director of curriculum and instruction for the Madera County Superintendent of Schools.

Jacob Salazar was one of the first Madera South High School students to participate in the Manufacturing Day tours in 2014. He toured JBT FoodTech Madera, a food processing facility, and learned about the apprenticeship program the company started and paired with classes at Madera Community College Center, a campus of Reedley Community College. Jacob became a pathway completer in Agricultural Mechanics and became the first high school student to compete in the State FFA Welding Contest.

“Now he is on his way to getting his Journeymen certificate. Manufacturing continues to provide quality career exploration opportunities for our students,” said Kristin McKenna, coordinator of college and career readiness at the Madera Unified School District.

For Gurminder Sangha, deputy sector navigator of advanced manufacturing for the California Community Colleges, the importance of manufacturing to California’s Central Valley has been something he’s been promoting for over three years.

“I was surprised when I started how little people knew about the manufacturing plants that existed in their neighborhoods, jobs that paid extremely well, and how critical the manufacturing sector is for our region and for California” he said. “I wondered how a student would know of the opportunities that exist in their backyard or how an employer could find future employees.”

So, Sangha in 2014 partnered with employers, school districts, and regional colleges to celebrate Manufacturing Day event in the Central Valley. In 2015, as a member of the San Joaquin Valley Manufacturing Cluster, and with the assistance of Office of Community and Economic Development, CSU Fresno, was successful in getting 22 Central Valley cities and counties to proclaim October as the Manufacturing Awareness and Appreciation Month. Two years later, with the assistance of Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the State made it a statewide proclamation.

Awareness and workforce are not the only big issues facing the industry. Technology, of course, causing major shifts in manufacturing.

As Keith Kaplan of the Tesla Foundation said recently, “The robots have left the building and are in many parts of our economy.” But that doesn’t mean that men—and increasingly women—will not be able to find work in manufacturing. It’s just going to be different.

“Some of the Strong Workforce programs are concentrating on that element—working with employers to develop new education and training programs for employees who will be working alongside automation,” added Anaya.

“Bachelors of Science in Industrial Automation by Bakersfield College is one example of how California Community Colleges are responding to the need and investing in building workforce necessary for employers to compete in the global markets” added Sangha.

More than ever it’s going to be important that employers, community colleges, workforce development boards, chambers of commerce, and economic development corporations, are working together in the regions of the state to make sure that they are building support and infrastructure for the needs of the regional economy.

And in just about every region of California, a robust manufacturing sector will be needed as our economy strives to remain global leader in the 21st century.

Building a Strong Workforce and filling one million middle-skill jobs like those in manufacturing is a priority of the California Economic Summit, which kicks off its 2017 statewide gathering next week in San Diego on November 2-3. There’s still time to register. You can do so by clicking here.


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan