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Campaign Touts New Face of Manufacturing

December 9, 2012 : Worcester Telegram & Gazette, by Priyanka Dayal McCluskey

Manufacturing, to many people, is synonymous with old brick mills and dirty factory floors, with jobs of the past, not of the future – jobs that are menial, jobs that are dead ends.

But none of those terms correctly describes manufacturing in Massachusetts today, according to public officials and industry experts. Manufacturing, they say, needs an image makeover.

To promote the new face of the industry, state officials have launched a new campaign: AMP it up! The effort is designed to convince more young people and the adults who influence them that manufacturing is a viable career option.

“Manufacturing has turned around,” said Eric Nakajima, assistant secretary for innovation policy at the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. “We need to convey what the jobs are like. Getting that message out is critical.”

The mills of yesteryear have been replaced by clean, highly advanced production facilities that make an array of plastics, electronics, medical devices, metal parts and other goods. At these facilities, robots and computers are as common as humans.

“We think of our manufacturing jobs as high-technology jobs,” said Russell H. Vanderbaan, human resources director for European conglomerate Siemens’ operations in Worcester. “The jobs are hands-on, and our employees do get their hands dirty, but the jobs are not dirty jobs, nor are they unskilled jobs.”

Manufacturing took a hit in the Great Recession, but employment in the sector has stabilized, according to a report from Northeastern University professor Barry Bluestone. The average salary for a job in manufacturing – a job that typically requires less than a four-year degree – is about $75,000. That’s higher than the average pay for workers in real estate, government and health care, according to the report.

To that point, Mark S. Sternman, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, suggests young people take a stroll through a parking lot at a manufacturing facility and look at the cars.

Manufacturing jobs, he said, “pay pretty well.”

MassDevelopment has designated a $1 million fund to run the AMP it up! campaign and other manufacturing initiatives. The agency will award grants to schools, businesses and other organizations that pledge to use the money to promote manufacturing through, for example, workplace visits. Grant winners, who will be announced later this month, will receive up to $10,000 each.

MassDevelopment also started a Twitter account (@AMPItUpMA) and hired a Boston branding consultant to help spread its message.

“We’re really targeting young people, and what we call adult influencers – parents, teachers and guidance counselors,” Mr. Sternman said.

The campaign came out of discussions between state officials and industry leaders, who formally started talking about manufacturing when Gov. Deval L. Patrick created the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative last year. Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray launched AMP it up! in September.

State officials said the campaign comes at a good time, because Massachusetts is expected to have 100,000 job openings in manufacturing over the next decade. They believe a little advertising will help create a pipeline of skilled workers.

AMP it up! is modeled on a Central Massachusetts program called Mass TEC. That program, run by Quinsigamond Community College, aimed to market manufacturing jobs in Worcester through promotional videos and speaking events.

Worcester County is home to many manufacturers, including Siemens, which employs 262 manufacturing workers in its rolling mill business in Worcester.

Mr. Vanderbaan, from Siemens, applauded the state's efforts to market manufacturing.

“A progressive and growing city and state need manufacturing jobs,” he said by email. “They need to make things to add real value – as opposed to just selling insurance or financial services. To add value, you need to manufacture things.”

© Copyright 2012 Worcester Telegram & Gazette.