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Tech savvy, people skills required for the next generation of manufacturing workers

The manufacturing industry provides a source of income for more than 27,000 Delawareans and their families, according to the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP), and there’s always room for new talent.  

In the summer of 2020, employment search engine Indeed counted more than 700 manufacturing jobs available in the state of Delaware. The pay for these jobs ranged from the low $20,000s to more than $80,000 per year. Drugs, industrial chemicals, plastics and other synthetics are some of Delaware’s primary manufacturing products.  

Unlike other growth sectors in Delaware, opportunities in manufacturing aren’t just concentrated in specific locations. “Manufacturing is definitely statewide,” says Michele Schiavoni, DPP’s director of external relations and marketing.

Michael Quaranta, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce (DSCC) and a member of the Delaware Manufacturing Association’s board of managers, argues that manufacturing is a sound choice for career growth. 

“Our demand and our needs for talent [in manufacturing] are substantial,” he says. The drive to send everyone to college “has created a manmade shortage of people in the trades. There are great opportunities to get through trade school and technical training for those in-demand jobs without much of any debt.”

Here is an overview of the kinds of opportunities available in the sector, and what skills employers are looking for.

Technology

As in other sectors, IT savvy is becoming an increasingly important skill in manufacturing. 

“More and more manufacturing equipment is controlled by iPad or computer,” said Daryl Roberts, chief operations and engineering officer at DuPont, at a July 21 panel discussion on the future of manufacturing hosted by hosted by the DSCC. “We need folks who have IT skills, but also understand the basics of how machinery works. … Be it folks with an associate’s degree or a certificate from a technology platform or a four-year degree, all those people are in the mix for skill sets that we have opportunities for.”

One example of a tech-focused manufacturing job: computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tool programmer. These workers develop programs to control the machining or processing of metal or plastic parts, and it’s one of the fastest-growing manufacturing occupations as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual salary for this position is $89,000, according to CareerBuilder. The Delaware Department of Labor calculates that entry-level workers in this position can expect to make an average of $18.78 an hour, or $39,000 a year.

Many community colleges offer certificate programs to prepare young workers for tech-focused jobs in manufacturing. For example, Delaware Technical Community College’s Machinist Training Level 1 certificate program aims to make students proficient in 3D computer modeling and other technology-based manufacturing techniques. 

Customer-Facing Positions

As manufacturers pivot to meet ever-changing needs during a pandemic, it has become more important than ever to stay in touch with customers, said Ron Gomes, co-owner of Painted Stave Distilling, at the DSCC panel. Painted Stave has been working on making its products available to order online, and customers may need help navigating that process. 

“I see us needing staff who can deal with customers and do that well,” Gomes said.

“We will also have staff that will be more involved in fulfillment and perhaps, if we enjoy some legislative change, we will see a need for delivery workers in the future. Meeting the needs of the customer is going to be paramount.”

And in an environment where a lot of customer contact now occurs remotely, “the ability to interface with people, having good communications skills, becomes very vital to everything we do,” said Roberts.

The average entry-level salary for customer service representatives is $44,175 a year, according to Indeed. 

Other Skilled Occupations

The Delaware Department of Labor projects job growth through 2026 for several skilled occupations in the manufacturing sector.

Examples of projected growth occupations that don’t require a four-year degree include:

• Electrical and electronics repairers, powerhouse, substation and relay (average salary: $83,129; entry level: $36.12/hour)

• Medical equipment repairers (average salary: $66,362; entry level: $25.04/hour)

• Chemical technicians (average salary: $62,764; entry level: $20.55/hour)

• Mechanical drafters (average salary: $58,361; entry level: $19.32/hour)

• Industrial machinery mechanics (average salary: $57,045; entry level: $19.52/hour)

“I think there’s always a need to tell people about the manufacturing sector as a potential path forward,” says Kurt Foreman, DPP’s president and CEO. “Whether it’s engineering, supply chain, technical or operational, they tend to be jobs that pay pretty well.”

Mythbusters: Manufacturing

Addressing common misconceptions about careers in the sector

You may be reluctant to allow your children to pursue a career in manufacturing because you’re concerned about dangerous and unrewarding work, low wages or the perception that the manufacturing sector is contracting. 

But take a closer look, and you’re likely to be surprised. Manufacturing, in fact, is one of the most diverse sectors of Delaware’s economy, and one of the fastest-growing. 

Here is a list of some common misconceptions about manufacturing, and the facts that should put your concerns to rest.   

Manufacturing is a dying industry

Manufacturing is one of the most important and fastest-growing industries in Delaware. Employment in the warehousing sector alone has tripled during the last decade, according to the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP). Altogether, the output of Delaware’s manufacturing industry is valued at nearly $5 billion annually. 

DPP works with companies looking to move to or expand in Delaware. As of June 30, the organization was working on 64 active projects — 33 of them in the manufacturing and logistics sector, according to Michele Schiavoni, DPP’s director of external relations and marketing.

Manufacturing workers spend their days at assembly lines or operating dangerous machinery

“Most people picture manufacturing being heavy and dirty and noisy,” says Kurt Foreman, DPP’s president and CEO. “There are certainly places where there’s noise and big equipment, but a lot of manufacturing today is much more technologically oriented.”

In fact, the range of manufacturing opportunities is extremely broad. The top five manufacturing verticals leading the way in job growth, according to DPP, are pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing; pesticide, fertilizer and other agricultural chemical manufacturing; navigational, measuring, electromedical and control instruments manufacturing; basic chemical manufacturing; and other general-purpose machinery manufacturing.

Also considered part of the manufacturing sector are distillers and brewers, or commercial printers like Associates International (Ai) in Wilmington. Ai specializes in the production of commercial print, direct mail, large format signage and promotional items. 

“As a growing company, we are always looking for exceptional candidates to add to our team,” says Joe Farley, Jr., Ai’s chief operating officer. “We offer careers in print production (press and machine bindery operators), direct mail (data processing, inkjet/inserter operators), graphic design, web development and programming.”

Manufacturing work is low-wage work

According to the Delaware Department of Labor, the average annual wage for manufacturing workers is $44,336. That’s essentially equal to the average salary in the marketing, sales and service sector: $44,333. 

Also, keep in mind that, depending on the specialized skills required for a job, or an employee’s work experience, wages may be much higher. First-line supervisors of production and operating workers, for example, make an average of $70,954, according to the Delaware Career Compass. This kind of position has excellent opportunities for salary growth as well. Hourly rates start with $23.45 at the entry level, but rise to an average of $39.45 for more experienced supervisors.


By Tina Irgang Leaderman and Todd Karpovich

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