When Stevie Nguyen graduated from Spring Lake Park High School three years ago, her mother laid it all out for her: She’d first attend a four-year college and later earn a law or medical degree.
Her father cautioned her against pursuing “dirty” careers: blue-collar jobs, no matter how well-paying those positions might be.
But Nguyen didn’t see herself sitting in a university classroom, wearing a doctor’s coat or analyzing legal cases. Instead, she found a career path in manufacturing, one that fit her love for designing and creating products.
“My mom was like, ‘You have to become a doctor or lawyer,’ ” Nguyen said. “And I was like, ‘No, I want to work. I want to make money and I want to build things.’ ”
Nguyen isn’t alone. According to a recent survey conducted by the Minneapolis-based consulting firm Enterprise Minnesota, many parents and teachers are pushing young people to attend traditional 4-year universities in pursuit of professions that are generally considered more prestigious — despite the fact that many manufacturing workers are well-paid and in-demand.
“Over the last generation, manufacturing has not been appreciated for the kind of careers it creates for young people,” said Bob Kill, Enterprise Minnesota’s president and CEO. “There are good-paying jobs; there are great careers that people can have.”
The attitude toward manufacturing jobs is just one of the findings of Enterprise Minnesota's “State of Manufacturing” survey, which collected data from 400 manufacturing executives to shed light on the opportunities and challenges facing the industry in Minnesota. The report will be presented Tuesday night before state officials and business leaders at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Among other things, the report highlights the positive outlook that many manufacturing executives in Minnesota have about their own companies, even if they're skeptical about the economy. The report found that 90 percent of the executives are confident about their companies’ financial prospects, the highest level seen in all eight years the survey has been conducted.
Yet the executives are less optimistic about the state’s economy this year: 48 percent of them predict the industry’s economic status will remain flat, while 38 percent expect an economic expansion and 15 percent say the state is heading into recession.
The report also states that the majority of manufacturers predict the number of their employees will stay the same (66 percent), or grow (29 percent) in 2016. The growth of the workforce in this year’s survey is exactly the same as last year’s.
In previous years, Enterprise Minnesota researchers interviewed only manufacturing leaders for the annual survey. This year, the organization also collected the voices of 40 college students pursuing manufacturing careers at Dunwoody College of Technology, Alexandria Technical and Community College as well as Anoka Technical and Community College.
The students were asked why many other people their age aren’t interested in manufacturing degrees from two-year colleges. The reason, said students: Kids are often discouraged by their parents and teachers.
“When I was in high school, there was kind of a stigma attached,” noted one of the students in the report. “There was a stigma attached to the people who were crafts people, who were hands-on, who were going for the blue-collar types of things and such.”
Another student added: “Your teachers just stress your whole life that you need to go to a four-year because that’s the best education you can get. They don’t ever think about these places as much, except for our technology teachers.”
Because many people aren’t joining the industry, manufacturers’ greatest need today continues to be entry-level qualified employees and those with technical training and experience.
The reason Enterprise Minnesota collects such data and produces an annual survey, Kill explained, is to raise awareness about the industries among the communities, educators and parents.
“The thing for parents to understand is that some of these are really well-paying positions,” Kill added. “I’d say the average pay for these kids coming out of Dunwoody is between $45,000 and $65,000 and $70,000 to start. So, these are very good paying jobs that can create careers.”
That’s what Nguyen has found. Despite, her parents’ warnings, Nguyen decided two years ago to enroll at Dunwoody College of Technology to pursue an associate of science degree in engineering drafting and designing. On track to graduate this spring, she already has several employment possibilities lined up. “I’ve gotten many job offers,” she said. “I actually had to decline some.”
Over the years, her parents gradually shifted their view about Nguyen’s career choice. They’ve been supportive of their daughter’s career goals and dreams. “I tell them my projects,” she said. “They’re quite impressed now.”
When Nguyen told her mother about the job offers, she asked: “Wow! You’re going to end up getting more money than me?”