“Cybersecurity,” “medical research” and “laboratory technician” are all terms commonly floated these days when lawmakers, educators and civic leaders talk about how to address the state’s mismatched workforce.
It’s these fields, they say, that are hiring, and will continue to do so, and for which job seekers must be trained.
However, there’s an entire industry that, according to its own experts, could do wonders to bridge the gap between the unemployed and hiring companies if only anyone knew that it was still there – manufacturing.
“I think people have left us for dead, but we’re alive and kicking. We’re still here,” said Bill McCourt, executive director of the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association, a Providence-based nonprofit that essentially exists to dispel that myth.
McCourt, who came onboard in January, is the man whose mission it now is to help reshape the manufacturing industry’s reputation and, as part of that, get career-planning students interested in working within its trenches.
“I don’t think folks understand the benefits of manufacturing,” McCourt said. “Part of my job is to educate the public. People can make a really good living and provide for a family in manufacturing and manufacturing employment has been growing.”
Some statistics agree with that.
In May 2012, according to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training, the manufacturing sector employed 40,800 state residents – 200 more jobs than in May 2011. They earned on average $18.41 per hour, up from $15.70 one year ago.
The National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, D.C., reports that between 2003 and 2010, manufactured-goods exports grew 33 percent and since 2003 have grown 60 percent faster than the state’s overall economy.
But the general consensus in Rhode Island, at least among those promoting a burgeoning creative and knowledge-based economy as the key to the state’s fiscal recovery, is that Providence’s once-glory-filled manufacturing sector fell apart with the collapse of its Jewelry District starting in the 1960s and largely attributed to the development of Interstate 195 and overseas outsourcing.