Hillsborough County's burgeoning high-tech sector, favorable business climate, and key location have shielded it from the persistent manufacturing decline across the United States.
Manufacturing is growing so fast in Hillsborough County that some companies fear there won't be enough skilled workers to fill open positions.
That's why the Manufacturing Alliance of Hillsborough County formed this year; to address the "skills gap" by ensuring there are enough potential employees to fill local manufacturers' needs. Hillsborough County aims to increase awareness of career opportunities in manufacturing; bolster job training and apprenticeships in and after high school; and coordinate among schools, manufacturers, and workforce development managers to match skilled workers with suitable jobs.
The benefit is two-fold: Existing and future companies can hire the talented employees they need; and enterprising people looking for fulfilling, well-paying manufacturing jobs can find them.
Plugging the skills gap begins with changing the perception that college is the favored pathway to a career. Studies show many students and parents are less enamored with manufacturing careers, though the work can be as satisfying and lucrative as occupations stemming from traditional collegiate studies.
It's a particular challenge in Hillsborough County, with its 1,000-plus existing manufacturers and outside companies eager to assess the merits of a region with a major port and airport, among other attributes.
The Alliance emphasizes that manufacturing jobs aren't what they used to be. It's not all smokestacks, assembly lines, and grease. Solderers, welders, and machinists now routinely use technology as much or more than muscle, and pay and advancement opportunities are attractive.
Erin Wise was a stay-at-home mom. Seeking better lives for herself and her children, she decided to learn welding skills. There are many opportunities for people who can weld, she says, ranging from structural to artistic work. "Being able to create something in my mind and being able to actually weld it together and make something like that is kind of amazing for me," she says.
The Alliance harnesses the influence and expertise of government officials, educators, and employers to deliver a pro-manufacturing message. It is led by Hillsborough County Government, Hillsborough Community College, Hillsborough County Public Schools, and CareerSource Tampa Bay.
Involvement of manufacturers is critical. Their input helps ensure potential hires get the training they need to succeed in industries that take advantage of rapidly changing technologies.
Hillsborough County is spending $1 million to advance the Alliance's objectives. The money pays for equipment used to teach manufacturing skills at a handful of local high schools and at HCC. It also is funding a testing site for various manufacturing certifications, paying for about 40 six-week internships, and supporting a media campaign that touts the appeal of careers in manufacturing.
To demonstrate their commitment to the industry, Hillsborough County leaders have designated October as Manufacturing Month.