Senator Coons oped: “Manufacturing – something Delaware should invest in”

When today’s college students choose a major, they’re making an important choice about their careers.

As parents and policymakers, we need to do everything we can to ensure they have the skills to thrive in the global marketplace, and right now there’s much more we can do to train young Delawareans for the good, 21st century manufacturing jobs of both today and tomorrow.

That’s why last week I led a group of Republicans and Democrats in introducing a bipartisan manufacturing bill to help universities train students for the good jobs that manufacturers across our state are eager to fill. Here in the First State, schools like the University of Delaware and Delaware State University are forward-looking and already invest in their students’ futures, and my bill would help them take the next step in training Delaware’s 21st century workforce.

The bill is called the Manufacturing Universities Act of 2015, and what it does is simple. It would designate 25 “Manufacturing Universities” across the country and invest $5 million in federal funding into each school’s engineering program over four years. These investments would help them align their curricula and training with the skills that local manufacturers are looking for. In Delaware, it would help businesses fill and create good manufacturing jobs by ensuring our technical and engineering students have the skills they need to go seamlessly from the classroom to the workplace.

Now, one challenge we face is that there are a lot of myths about manufacturing jobs that need to be dispelled. For example, I often hear from parents in Delaware who worry that manufacturing jobs are only found on the dirty assembly line floors of decades past, or that their children won’t have the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in college to a job in manufacturing.

This idea couldn’t be further from the truth. Delaware has more than 25,000 manufacturing jobs today, and they require higher skill levels than ever before. Whether you’re manufacturing chemicals at Ashland in Wilmington, fabricating metals at Miller Metal in Bridgeville, or even bottling beer at Dogfish Head in Milton, you need training in math and science as well as critical thinking and collaboration skills. These jobs demand workers who are adaptable and quick thinking, and have a good understanding of what it means to take discoveries from the lab and turn them into the products that fill our homes and can change our lives. Perhaps most importantly, these manufacturing jobs are rewarding and well paying.

I’ve also had the chance to work closely with our state’s universities to make sure this bill works for Delaware. Already, UD’s composites and chemical engineering work and Del. State’s optics and laser research make them national leaders. This bill would help them take their education and training to the next level. Last October, I visited Professor Jenni Buckley’s lab at UD and saw how she’s teaching engineering students to apply what they learn in the classroom to a manufacturing environment where they collaborate, innovate, and make things with a variety of tools and materials. My bill would help strengthen their work by building closer and stronger connections between their engineering training and the work that manufacturers do every day. 

Another myth I hear is that while manufacturing jobs might have been great during America’s industrial past, they can no longer anchor America’s middle class and 21st century innovation economy. But though many manufacturing jobs did leave our shores as our economy became globalized, our manufacturers have actually created more than 800,000 jobs in the past five years. The truth is that American workers are well positioned to compete for the advanced manufacturing jobs that can propel our country forward. Believe me, reports of American manufacturing’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

The bottom line is that today’s manufacturing jobs are good jobs that kick start successful careers. More than any other sector, manufacturing jobs pay more in wages and benefits, contribute more to local economies, and are critical to our nation’s capacity to innovate. The issue is that these jobs demand higher skill levels than the manufacturing jobs of yesterday and manufacturers across the country are struggling to fill tens of thousands of good, well paying jobs.

Our workers have what it takes to thrive in those jobs and create thousands more in the process, but we need to do more to put aside outdated images of manufacturing and invest in the talents of Delaware’s young people. University students should know that they have many options after school, and that one is a promising career in manufacturing."

By Chris Coons