Making Montana

Flathead Beacon | 1/2019 | Kim Morisaki |

My friend Kate sent me a video the other day titled Trade School vs. Law School with a self-pitying lawyer accusing his mechanic friend of acting superior because the mechanic made a better living while the lawyer was struggling with college debt and a lower income. It might be a little bit exaggerated, but it’s funny because there is a kernel of truth at the center.  The video was part of a larger economic development conversation amongst those planning and participating in Making Montana.  This is an event at the Fairgrounds February 15-16 to encourage manufacturers and tech companies to engage with students as well as their parents and teachers to view the products being made in the Flathead and understand the career opportunities at local companies.  The interactives being planned are intended to emphasize the 21st Century technology and human skills needed to succeed in manufacturing and open eyes to the transformation that manufacturing has seen in the last two decades.

Demand for skilled labor is going up and the supply has been going down for decades, while often wages for jobs you would secure after college graduation are stagnant.  It is a trend we see across the country that is reaching critical mass as baby boomers retire.  Deloitte Insights published an article in November 2018 stating that job openings in manufacturing have been growing at double digit rates since mid-2017.  They contend that the gap will continue to grow into the next decade.

“…more than half of the open (manufacturing) jobs in 2028 (2.4 million) could remain unfilled because of the following reasons identified by executives:

  • Shifting skill sets due to the introduction of advanced technologies
  • Misperceptions of manufacturing jobs
  • Retirement of baby boomers

The manufacturing workforce has been absorbing new technology for more than two centuries.  Today, the industry finds itself in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is poised to transform work at an unprecedented pace through exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and cognitive automation, advanced analytics, and the Internet of Things.  And, contrary to some predictions, technology is likely to create more jobs than it destroys—as it has done historically. This is evident in the tight manufacturing labor market conditions prevailing both globally as well as in the United States.”

All around the country communities and industry are struggling to grasp what is driving this trend and combat the skills gap.  Some might argue that large corporations have created the problem by actively eroding unions and holding labor wages low while continuing to raise management salaries – causing the work they need done to be perceived as undesirable and unvalued.  Here in the Flathead growing manufacturers and tech companies are battling the low county and state unemployment rates while thousands of new jobs are being created each month in Montana – 2000 in November alone. The skills needed are both a mastery of new technology and essential human skills such as critical thinking, creativity and people management.  Local businesses want to connect to the emerging workforce and provide a message about the value and excitement of creating and innovating products.

Businesses know that in this time of rapid change, the people they hire must know how to innovate, think and creatively problem solve.  On Friday, February 15th over 1500 students will engage with our local businesses and identify which skills the company values as part of their production process.  Many of those skills do not require four-year degrees, but instead may be secured through certificate programs, two-year tech degrees or paid apprenticeships.  Students will have an opportunity to try their hand at a variety of skills while talking with FVCC students demonstrating the classes they are taking. Making Montana is not a jobs fair, it is a hands-on, interactive way for all involved to glimpse into the future of manufacturing and tech in Northwest Montana.  For more information: