The future of work: safe, clean manufacturing
The walls are as unblemished as a sheet of ink-free paper. The lights above gleam off a freshly waxed floor. And there isn’t much noise, only the humming of automated machines and the quiet chatter of people. Each of them is using the eyes of a microscope to place electronics a third the size of a human hair onto circuit boards.
Through the sea of machines and people, Butch Locke walks along a neatly marked path. His ocean blue smock covers his collared shirt that is neatly tucked into his pressed slacks. At first glance you'd likely never guess he's in a factory. Maybe it's the absence of dirt on his smock, sweat on his brow or dust flying through the air. Or maybe because it just doesn’t look like one.
"There is a stigma that manufacturing is a dirty and mindless job but once you walk the floor it really changes your perception," said Locke, manager of strategic operations for Electronic Systems at BAE Systems. "No one used to graduate saying they want to work in a factory, but this isn't your grandfather's factory."
The assembly lines of old are gone. Now automated machines and humans are working side by side to make goods faster and more reliable. This is what the future of work in America looks like and it is in full bloom at Electronic Systems. The sector has hired hundreds of people to fill its manufacturing floors in the last year and it’s not slowing down any time soon.
The sector isn't alone. Factories across the country are hiring again. In fact, the U.S. has nearly 13 million people working in manufacturing – that's as many as 69 years ago. That means more Americans are back at working making stuff. But these aren’t the kind of jobs you might be thinking of. This type of work requires complex machines and computer systems to produce some of the world's most advanced electronics. These jobs also look different. They are in a clean, bright setting and offer higher pay and upward mobility.
"You may not think of advanced technology on a manufacturing floor, but it's real – and it is cutting edge," said Kim Cadorette, vice president of Operations for Electronic Systems at BAE Systems. "You can't just buy machines that do this sort of work; you need to engineer them to do it for you."
To fill its manufacturing jobs, the sector had to get creative. Due to the advanced nature of its work, it needed a lot of different skills that simply were not available in the community. That's when company officials joined forces with Nashua Community College and created the Microelectronics Boot Camp three years ago.
The 10-week, non-credit course helps people to learn the skills needed to work in the manufacturing field. So far, it's paying off, with more than 100 new hires coming from the program. In total, the sector has hired more than 80 percent of the graduates. "Everything about the boot camp continues to evolve and improve. It's not the same as it was even just three years ago," said Locke. "It was born out of necessity and now it's feeding the talent pipeline for the state of New Hampshire."
Now Electronic Systems is looking to replicate that success starting with beefing up its job training and recruiting at job fairs, high schools, and colleges. The sector is now attracting talent to fill its pipeline from coast to coast in locations across the country and as far west as San Francisco, California. It is also looking to create new or build on existing partnerships with Keene State College, Texas State Technical College, and Indian Hills Community College to support recruiting. In the case of Keene State, there may even be an opportunity build a certificate program similar to the model of the Microelectronics Boot Camp. "You can't just go out into the community and easily find these skills," said Cadorette. "This is a highly advanced skillset and we needed to partner with academia to create programs to help provide the training and attract the talent."
Inside its walls, the sector is investing in the factory. Over the past several years, it has spent $100 million to expand and improve its capabilities on the floor. This will not only help the sector meet its production demands but evolve with the needs of its customers. The investment also opens the door for more jobs, as the demand increases. The sector is expecting to hire hundreds more in the years ahead as it prepares for projected growth. With more growth comes more job training and advancements in technology, but the sector is ready.
"We have to keep up with the technology while growing," said Cadorette. "This is something that won't stop, but now we have some playbooks in place to find the people with the skills we need and develop the technology to keep us on the cutting edge."
By Anthony DeAngelis, Communications, Nashua, New Hampshire