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November 27, 2012

Manufacturers facing dearth of younger skilled workers in next decade

BOSTON — Manufacturing in Massachusetts faces a threat to its survival as older manufacturing workers retire without younger workers in line to replace them, according to a recent study.

During the next decade, approximately 100,000 manufacturing jobs will open up as older workers retire. Manufacturing firms will find it tough to replace them because younger workers are not attracted to the sector, according to Barry Bluestone, director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University.

The outlook for manufacturing was discussed during the first meeting of the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative – a group of executives, industry experts and state economic development officials organized to strengthen the sector.

The 100,000 figure – or 10,000 jobs a year – is based on flat growth in manufacturing, Bluestone said. The number of jobs could be higher.

Part of the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative’s mission will be to reverse the trend by encouraging more young people to look at manufacturing jobs.

Many people are stuck in an “old cognitive map,” Bluestone said, thinking of manufacturing as old smokestack businesses that lack appeal for younger workers.

“This is a problem we have,” he said. “We are so focused on going to college and getting a degree in finance and health sciences, we forget there are 10,000 jobs a year in manufacturing.”

In a survey of manufacturers, approximately two-thirds said they expect to expand their businesses in the near future, something that could prove difficult if they cannot find workers, Bluestone said.

Massachusetts is not alone in facing the problem of finding skilled manufacturing workers. Companies in other states experience the same difficulty, Bluestone said, while the number of manufacturing workers grow in countries like China and India.

Massachusetts workers need to recognize that manufacturing provides opportunities for good-paying, stable jobs, particularly for people without bachelor’s degrees, Bluestone said.

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