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Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Help Wanted: TAM’s Tony Bennett Discusses the Future of Texas Manufacturing

Published April 2018

Will the Texas manufacturing industry be able to meet future personnel needs with an educated and skilled workforce? Manufacturers worldwide are already experiencing a shortage of experienced and qualified workers. Line Items recently spoke with Tony Bennett, president of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, about what this challenge means for our state and future economy.

Tony Bennett,
President
Texas Association of Manufacturers

Line Items: Texas manufacturing facilities are facing a “skills gap.” What effect is this having on industry?

Tony Bennett: The majority of manufacturing companies now rank the global talent shortage as the No. 1 challenge for future competitiveness. Manufacturers need qualified workers across a variety of specialties, from welders to engineers, process managers to pipe fitters and risk analysts to chemists. Texas employers continue to report severe shortages of workers in the “skilled trades” — technicians, mechanics, carpenters, electricians, HVAC techs, truck drivers, machinists, millwrights, plumbers and others. Nearly every local workforce board in Texas has named each of these professions on its “target occupations” list. Contrary to some critics’ assertions, these jobs aren’t going away.

According to a recent Deloitte study, it’s estimated the U.S. manufacturing industry will face a shortage of 2 million workers by 2025, due to three primary factors: availability of a qualified workforce, changing dynamics of the skillsets needed for advanced manufacturing and the perceived attractiveness of the industry among the general public.

LI: The fastest growing job sectors are in retail, health and food service industries, yet manufacturing jobs pay considerably more on average. What do you believe is keeping people from considering a career in manufacturing? What is the biggest obstacle to recruiting new talent for manufacturing industries?

TB: According to the National Association of Manufacturers, the average manufacturing worker earned $81,289 annually in 2015, while the average worker in other employment earned $63,830.

Yet, the public perceptions of manufacturing haven’t kept pace with industry’s rapid modernization, leaving the erroneous impression that a manufacturing job means a poor working environment, low wages and benefits and little to no advancement. Furthermore, many parents still possess a false impression of industrial careers and don’t often encourage their children to pursue a job in manufacturing.

I’m glad to say the trending perception of our industry is moving in an optimistic direction, and the public is beginning to better understand that modern manufacturing jobs have become more skilled, higher-tech, innovative, safer and offer a very promising career choice for young people.

For instance, in 2016, the average tenure of workers staying with the same employer in the manufacturing industry is the highest among all private-sector industries, at 9.1 years of service. In fact, manufacturing jobs have an employee turnover rate of 2.3 percent, while quit rates were only 1.2 percent from 2011 to 2016 — some of the lowest percentages among all private-sector jobs.

Today’s manufacturing isn’t the same as in your father’s or grandfather’s day, and it’s critical that all of us involved in manufacturing work harder to update the public on what incredible opportunities exist in modern manufacturing and get the message out about this dynamic industry sector.

LI: What efforts in Texas are you aware of to replenish talent and recruit the next generation of modern manufacturing workers, as current industry workers age out of the workforce?

TB: With many senior-level Baby Boomers retiring, the next 10 years are expected to witness many job openings in manufacturing, especially in high-skilled and high-tech manufacturing occupations, as well as leadership positions.

Unfortunately, too few Texans are leaving high school with the skills that are in demand in today’s Texas economy. This reality prompted broad industry support for House Bill 5 during the 2013 legislative session, and the leadership that ushered that legislation into law.

Manufacturers supported HB 5 because it broadens opportunities for Texas students by providing flexibility to ensure that they can graduate from high school well prepared to take on the challenges of a two-year or four-year college, or to seek a professional certificate — any one of which can lead to a high-quality job in today’s Texas economy. All forms of education are in demand in Texas today.

LI: How can the Texas Workforce Commission and community colleges help employers address manufacturing and technical education for existing workers?

TB: We support the Texas Workforce Commission’s Skills Development Fund, Texas’ job-training program providing local customized training opportunities for Texas businesses and workers. The program aims to increase the skill levels and wages of the workforce. Success is achieved through collaboration among businesses, public community and technical colleges, local workforce development boards and economic development partners.

Community by community, there must be constant outreach and ongoing communication and alignment with the business and industry community by workforce boards, along with secondary and higher educational institutions. FN

Take a deep dive into the economic impact of Texas manufacturers by visiting the Comptroller’s Good for Texas: Manufacturing online resource.

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