Once upon a time, high schools offered some kind of traditional shop class — wood, metals, or both — as an elective to expose young people to tradework. As for the students who signed up, maybe they wanted to be a welder, a woodworker, a machinist, or some other kind of trade worker.

 

When you look back 30 years ago or so, it was evident that some of those kids would go into those traditional trades, and another group of more science-oriented kids might be interested in the engineering aspects of those same fields. It was an either-or situation, and educators didn’t do a lot to inspire careers in the trade industry.

Part of the problem was that everyone thought foreign companies would “catch up” or “pass-up” the U.S. in terms of technology and everything else. But now, it’s become obvious that we’ve maintained an advantage over foreign competition. Now, overall, we’re in a period of growth, especially for the next generation of metals manufacturing engineers — jobs that combine the best of those two seemingly separate worlds established so long ago: trade, and engineering.

Former decline

Back in the day, high-school shop classes were one of the most inspirational experiences for young people interested in pursuing engineering or trade work. But unfortunately, when budgets (and curriculum) get cut, they were the first classes to go. All of those classes — which teach young people how to make things that people buy, design, engineer, or manufacture — are so important, when you take them out of the curriculum, young people aren’t left with any real inspiration tied to those fields. Beyond classroom experience, there isn’t much opportunity at that age to try on a new hobby.

Future demand

The good news is, in the last five years or so, the need for people in tech-related trades has grown stronger than ever. So long as there is technology and industry, we will continue to need to build things, manufacture things, design, and engineer things. As we move further into the 21st century, there’s an infiltration of technology, and just as it’s infiltrated our lives, it’s infiltrated our industries. The use of robotics to run efficient operations has been part of the success story of American manufacturing. For years, there was a vacuum of people going into those fields, because they weren’t given exploratory or experiential opportunities in high school. Now, the tides are changing. And what the rapidly changing world needs more than anything is a diversity of people across all fields of study.

Opportunities on the rise

The reason it’s so critical that we have people enter into this field is because it’s growing exponentially. As an added perk, it’s fun — and by the way, it pays well, too! After decades of decline, we’re starting to see the resurgence of interest return to the world of manufacturing. It’s a feel-good story: Metals manufacturing is alive and well, robust and fun, and there are long careers to be had. From welders and machinists to engineers, industries like ours offer a full spectrum of opportunities, from working with your hands to working with your mind, and everywhere in between.