BY ROGER VAN SCYOC
After the safety glasses were stowed away, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino told the group that today’s manufacturing in the commonwealth is “not your grandfather’s or grandmother’s manufacturing.” But, she added, it remains a key cog in the state’s economy.
“We have a very diverse and robust manufacturing industry in Pennsylvania,” she said. “I think it flies under the radar screen because most of our companies are in that 50-to-500 range of employees, and you see how much automation is used, how much technology is used.”
The group, which included representatives from PA CareerLink and regional career and technical schools, met with Manderino as part of her “Jobs That Pay” tour, a statewide trek that has reconciled employer concerns with workforce development. On Thursday at Chemcut Corporation in State College, her most recent stop took her through the alchemy of chemical etching and metal production.
Manderino’s sojourn has taken her to potato chip factories, medical equipment plants and the home of Zippo lighters. At Chemcut, she surveyed the needs of management, asking how the company has adapted to the market.
Mike Soble, the technical sales manager, expressed concern about more manufacturing going offshore and competing technologies such as lasers and 3-D printing.
“Imagine if we could build the final production equipment rather than just the prototyping equipment,” he told the group. “And what that would mean for jobs in Pennsylvania and State College.”
Amid the hum of machines, the group toured the 110,000-square-foot facility, where all of the company’s equipment is manufactured in-house. Chemcut helps other producers produce, with its machines playing a role in developing everything from the chips found in credit cards to the hands in Timex watches. It’s a complex process: At one point, Soble showed the group a workflow diagram akin to a hectic game of Tetris.
Manderino said Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is focused on bridging the gap between the education and manufacturing sectors. She pointed to efforts made at the high school and middle school levels to subvert stereotypes about the industry’s long-term success.
“Today’s manufacturing is not the type of manufacturing people think about,” she told the group. “We need to be preparing young people with career and technical skills for manufacturing, and we need to know what your employment and training needs are, and what you see on the horizon five or 10 years in the future.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing accounts for more than 564,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, and the Economic Policy Institute reports the sector constitutes $77.4 billion — or about 12 percent — of the state’s total GDP.
“I think we’re in the attitude-changing business,” Manderino said. “And to help folks understand that there are good-paying jobs that have career paths in manufacturing and other technical areas that don’t always require people to have a four-year degree.”