The manufacturing industry must think more progressively about how to attract the young generation, and an apprenticeship isn’t the way to do it.
Call it an internship, not an apprenticeship.
I found that message hidden in the announcement this week that 50 U.S. companies will boost their offering of engineering internships in 2012, an effort coordinated by the White House, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council, and various business groups.
The list includes 45 companies that will double their slate of internships; five others have committed simply to increasing their offerings. Among the 45 you’ll find Cardinal Health, Facebook, and MasterCard, companies that have emerged as leaders in what some call a post-manufacturing America dominated by healthcare, technology, and finance. But the preponderance of names on the list stir memories of the country’s industrial might: Alcoa, Boeing, General Electric.
I like the effort, small as it is. I also like the word “internship.” Subtle shifts in language can make a big difference—ask any marketer. An “internship” sounds contemporary. An “apprenticeship” sounds like something you find in a caption for a black and white photo in a textile museum. Manufacturers should apply a new language to all facets of their business, whether it’s someone dabbling in operations management, machine work, or research and development. You might argue that “internship” isn’t the right term for someone destined for operations management, or line work. But that’s old thinking. It’s time to rebrand.
In generations past, sons lined up for the trades their fathers had mastered, and a virtuous cycle kept manufacturing humming. The industry isn’t accustomed to fighting for its meals. But it must if it wants to survive. And it’s time the manufacturing industry became its own marketer, using language to its advantage. All levels of the manufacturing organization must think progressively. Throw away your old vocabulary. Think with a new playbook. Offer internships on the manufacturing floor. Change your apprenticeship program to a career development initiative, or a future leaders program.
If we’re intent on resuscitating manufacturing, we must first focus on destroying stereotypes and the language that gives them life. Throw away the apprenticeships of old. Rebrand manufacturing.
Tell us what you’re doing to inspire the next generation of manufacturing workers and leaders, and how you have changed the language to help.