Inside the Manufacturing Assistance Center. Photo by J.L. Martello/18ricco.

As Pittsburgh increasingly becomes known as a hub of robotics and new machine technology, local leaders are faced with a vexing problem: Who is going to build all this stuff?

Experts call it the “skills gap” — a situation where good jobs are available, but the local workforce doesn’t have the training to take advantage of them. In Pittsburgh, many worry that the gap could slowly turn into a chasm in the coming years.

To ensure that the next generations of workers can share in the city’s prosperity, the Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) in Homewood will join dozens of other factories and industry groups around the region next week in welcoming students to tour their facilities and learn about the changing face of manufacturing.

Claire Guth is in charge of community outreach at the MAC, where budding engineers and others can get training in advanced manufacturing techniques. Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, Guth says she routinely sees evidence of the gap.

Manufacturing “companies call us six times a week,” she says. “They’re desperate for these students to come and work for them.”

The planned tours, which can help high schoolers learn about the possible careers available to them in advanced manufacturing, are part of a national, grassroots series of events known as “Manufacturing Day.”

Manufacturing Day events were first organized by the nonprofit industry group Fabricators & Manufacturers Association in 2012. This year’s event is sponsored locally by Catalyst Connection, an economic development group focused on small to medium-sized manufacturers.

“Manufacturers will begin to address the skilled labor shortage they face, connect with future generations, take charge of the public image of manufacturing and ensure the ongoing prosperity of the whole industry,” says a statement on Catalyst Connection’s website.

While it’s called a “day,” the various fundraisers, workshops and factory open houses will be taking place all of next week. Events include:

In a 2016 report, the Allegheny Conference estimated that the region may face a shortage of 80,000 workers over the next decade, potentially setting back the hard-won economic gains of the last several decades.

This program aims to help ensure that won’t happen. For Guth, the field trips will be a chance to educate young Pittsburghers, especially from underserved neighborhoods, about the booming industries taking shape right in their own communities. Hopefully, these jobs can help close the gap for good.

“Really our goal with this program is to upskill the existing workforce,” Guth says, “to combat generational poverty.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.