Max Inks at The ExOne Company. Photo by Ohad Cadji.

The Pittsburgh area is attracting many highly educated Millennials, but what the region needs are younger people willing to look at manufacturing jobs, says PublicSource journalist Weenta Girmay.

In her feature for the investigative news organization, Millennials wanted as Boomers expected to leave a crater in the job market, Girmay discusses the current needs of advanced manufacturing fields in Pennsylvania.

The article also profiles several young employees working in the region, such as Max Inks, 24, who attended Penn State for three years before dropping out. After transferring to Westmoreland County Community College and taking robotics and electronics courses, Inks landed a job at The ExOne Company, a 3-D printing manufacturing facility located in North Huntingdon.

“No one outside of the industry truly knows that we exist in Pennsylvania, let alone the fact that we can print in stainless steel,” says Inks.

As reported by PublicSource, The Allegheny Conference on Community Development estimates that the working-age population in the region is composed of 144,000 more people aged 45 to 65, mostly Baby Boomers, than people ages 25 to 45 (the Gen X-ers and Millennials). As Boomers retire over the next 20 years, the region’s industries will need replacements for those who are currently working. In some industries, such as advanced manufacturing—which currently has one of the region’s oldest workforces with more than half of employees in their 50s—the gap is even larger. For the industry to remain competitive, employers and recruiters in the field will need to step up awareness and curb appeal to attract Millennials who can fill the predicted “job gap.”

Girmay goes on to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both skill-related expertise and a college degree, as well as the stigma that can still be associated with manufacturing jobs and the issue of substantial college debt.

“A job in manufacturing typically doesn’t rate for the 18- to 34-year-olds of today. Most Millennials, almost by default, are graduating from four-year institutions. It’s a decision that pays out over their careers. Pew Research says those with degrees out-earn those with only some college or a high school diploma by $15,500 to $17,500 annually. What Millennials don’t know is that on-the-job training in manufacturing doesn’t automatically exclude the bump in pay that comes with a bachelor’s degree.”

Paul Anselmo, president of New Century Careers—a free training program for those looking to get into a skilled trade—says that more skill still means better pay. Along with training, many companies are offering to help pay for employees to obtain an advanced degree—making it possible to avoid the massive student debt that this generation has become accustomed to.

Rob Pushak, 26, at a New Century Careers training program. Photo by Ohad Cadji.

Anselmo believes the region’s future depends on gaining a younger generation of skilled workers: “If we don’t, these companies will move somewhere else, and manufacturing is one of the biggest economic drivers in Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania,” he said.

Girmay reports that while the region is mostly known for the production of steel, manufacturing here is diversified. The three biggest areas of production are related to defense, aerospace and medical devices. Pittsburgh-area companies produce titanium and specialty glass for military aircrafts, tiny screws and plates that go into the human body and chemical coatings for glass and other subsurfaces.

Writes Girmay: “If manufacturers leave, it could mirror the decline of steel in the early 1980s, when 20-somethings left Pittsburgh in droves. This flight reverberated throughout generations, turning Southwestern Pennsylvania into one of the oldest metropolitan regions in the country.”

Grimay then talks to Chris Briem at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research, who doesn’t see this harsh domino effect becoming a reality and who dismisses the predicted job gap, saying that the American workforce is mobile and accustomed to generating competition to fill in the gaps. Briem also points to both national and regional data showing that increasing numbers of Baby Boomers are choosing to stay in the workforce past retirement.

The article also discusses the fact that “despite employers’ best efforts, news of the many available jobs and their perks aren’t reaching Millennials.”

Rob DiNardi, head of Latrobe-based L & S Machine Company, faces this challenge every time he tries to recruit younger people to work as machinists in his shop, where they make the component parts that go into refueling nuclear power plants.

DiNardi says that Millennials and their parents don’t understand that it’s not always the grimy job it was in Pittsburgh’s steel-making heyday. “If they came here, they would see it’s one of the cleanest places to work. Their son or daughter can make a fair amount of money, and we’re technologically advanced.”

DiNardi, who employs 100 people in his machine shop, has hired 10 employees ages 20 to 30 in the last three or four years. He also hires young apprentices through BotsIQ, a robotics competition for high school students that familiarizes them with manufacturing.

Machinist Brian McDowell, 31, came to work for DiNardi about 11 years ago, after working as an assistant manager at Walmart. With on-the-job training and credentials, a machinist can make up to $54,200. And McDowell says he would recommend a job like his to other Millennials.

“It really is worth it. Where else are you going to go at 21 years old and go be a machinist where they start you out at a decent pay? The more you know, the more you learn, the more you’re going to make,” says McDowell.

To read the entire article, go here.

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.