The manufacturing industry was hit hard during the economic downturn. But post-recession, it's also been making one of the biggest comebacks. A new report by Deloitte for The Manufacturing Institute shows there are some 600,000 open jobs in manufacturing, but there's also a severe shortage of skilled workers to fill those positions.
Nikole Wilkes is learning how to operate a wide range of machinery as a student at Hawkeye Community College. Until recently, she was a stay-at-home mom taking online classes, looking for a new career path.
"You know, at first, it was kind of intimidating. But my kids are getting older now. So now I can actually get out and do something for my future and my kids' future," Wilkes said.
That future looks bright, since Wilkes is getting an education with hands-on training.
"The students really have to be able to have good spatial reasoning, as well as solid mathematics and understand how machines operate with programmable codes," said Ray Beets, dean of applied sciences at Hawkeye Community College.
Area employers say it's people with those abilities they're looking for to fill a major shortage of skilled workers.
"I think everybody in the Cedar Valley is looking for skilled trades people: machinists, welders, building trades people," said Kendall Kelly, human resources manager for the GMT Corporation in Waverly. "We know there are literally hundreds of jobs out there for skilled people."
There are currently about 600 open jobs in eastern Iowa for skilled manufacturing workers.
GMT predicts the need for skilled workers will only keep climbing both on the national and local level, as baby boomers begin retiring and creating open positions. In Waverly, GMT is also expanding with a new plant that will need 35 more skilled workers in the next two to five years.
The company believes more businesses will soon opt to grow their manufacturing sector here in the US.
"I think they're going to see we'll be bringing more operations back on shore," said Kelly. "The cost of quality, cost of transportation, all those types of things in foreign countries...We're going to be able to do it better here and at a very competitive cost."
That will help put people back to work, while revitalizing the trademark "made in America".
Employers say as the manufacturing industry grows, there will be a need for skilled workers beyond the factory floor. Companies will also need skilled professionals in engineering, accounting, marketing and more to operate their business.
Written by Kera Mashek, Multimedia Journalist