GORHAM, Maine — Maine’s manufacturing industry has a persistent and detrimental perception problem, according to industry officials.
So the Manufacturers Association of Maine has launched a new program to engage students, educators and parents in hopes of combating misperceptions that manufacturing is a dying industry that pays low wages and is a profession best left to men.
Mega Industries LLC, a global manufacturer of microwave transmission equipment based in Gorham, hosted the Friday launch event, also National Manufacturing Day.
The program, called “Dream It. Do It.,” is run by the Washington, D.C.-based Manufacturing Institute. Maine joins 24 other states signed onto the program.
For a $5,000 subscription fee, the Manufacturers Association of Maine gains access to curriculum material for schools, technical support, and a national network of educators and manufacturing professionals working to address the same perception problem.
And according to Nicholas D’Antonio, the national director for the “Dream It. Do it.” program, it is a national issue.
The U.S. manufacturing industry is facing a “workforce crisis,” he said. Nationally, 82 percent of manufacturing companies can’t find enough skilled workers they need to operate efficiently, according to data compiled by the Manufacturing Institute. As a result, more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs go unfilled every year in this country, he said.
Citing a national poll, D’Antonio said seven in 10 parents believe a robust manufacturing sector is necessary to the livelihood of the U.S economy, yet only three of 10 parents would encourage their children to pursue careers in manufacturing.
“Quite often there are negative perceptions about our industry, ones that come from a generation ago, that do not reflect the current high-tech advanced careers that exist in modern manufacturing,” D’Antonio said. “These false perceptions don’t just hurt our nation’s manufacturing, but they also do a disservice to hundreds of thousands of students across our nation [who] are never provided with the opportunity to explore a valuable career choice.”
Misperceptions that manufacturing doesn’t offer career opportunities need to change, according to Frank Sherburne, superintendent of the Bonny Eagle School District.
“I graduated from high school 30 years ago, and those same perceptions have carried on,” said Sherburn, who is acting as the “Dream It. Do It.” ambassador to the state’s other school superintendents. “The perception of manufacturing is probably the greatest issue we have to overcome. … The opportunities abound, so we have to take advantage of them so our kids don’t need to leave the state.”
Wages in the manufacturing industry are 28 percent higher than the average Maine wage, according to Lisa Martin, executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Maine. And, based on the association’s most recent informal poll, there were 218 open positions at 37 manufacturing companies in the state.
Maine manufacturers are not struggling, according to the Manufacturers Association of Maine. There are 1,800 manufacturing businesses in the state, which employ more than 50,000 people and support a payroll that tops $2.5 billion, the association’s most recent data shows.
Mega Industries has experienced 87 percent growth in sales this year, according to Peter Anania, the company’s owner.
Sherburne believes that schools and teachers need to do a better job of encouraging students to pursue a career path in manufacturing.
“As educators … we need to end that perception that manufacturing and trades are for other students,” Sherburne said. “It really is an opportunity for all students.”
Gov. Paul LePage was scheduled to attend the event but was unable because he was busy handling implications of the federal shutdown, according to John Butera, the governor’s economic adviser who attended in LePage’s stead.
“Manufacturing is critical to Maine’s economy and, quite honestly, Maine needs more of it,” Butera said. “Manufacturing jobs are high-tech and high-skilled jobs and, more importantly, manufacturing jobs are not just jobs, manufacturing provides great career opportunities.”