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The Big M

When discussing employment in The Big M, parents, teachers and mentors often take great care to ensure that the child/student/mentee understands the rigors of a Big M job and its working environment, which might not suit a person who likes clean, well-ordered and un-dramatic workplaces.  After all, a life spent in medicine can be bloody, scary, chaotic and exhausting.  Yes, that’s the Big M I am referring to here.  I bet you thought I was talking about manufacturing, which is also often misunderstood in terms of job  environment and career opportunities.

It’s funny, but both of the Big M’s get short shrift during “career talks”.  Under the heading, medicine, jobs all get lumped together even though the jobs are very distinct from each other and require different skills and temperaments. When someone says they want to go into medicine, they have many career paths to choose from: doctor, research scientist, phlebotomist, certified nursing assistant, surgeon, dermatologist, internist, EMT, and the like.

In discussing manufacturing (the other Big M) as a career, many people don’t realize that manufacturing is not just about production, it’s also designing things, developing new materials, utilizing new technologies, and creating new inventions. Manufacturing jobs include industrial designer, materials engineer, software programmer, computer numerical control machine operator, marketing experts, financial officers, project managers, and supply chain leaders.  Like the myriad of medical careers available, each of these manufacturing jobs requires different KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities), and are suited to different personality types and career goals. Both Big M’s are, in fact, many, many small M’s.

It’s no wonder that children often follow in their parents’ footsteps when it comes to jobs.  Most of us are really terrible at understanding and describing what different jobs look like, their educational requirements, and what they provide in the way of psychological and economic satisfaction.  Because our kids can clearly see what they’re getting into in terms of their parents jobs and lives, the apples rarely fall far from the tree.  But this makes the harvest too small.

In a recent report from Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, manufacturing will add approximately 3.5 million jobs by 2020.[1]  Where will these new designers, engineers, physicists, inventors and technologists come from?  All of us should really think harder and do more to help young people be prepared for future work. To that end, providing more “career days” at workplaces and in schools, increasing the number of internships and apprenticeships, encouraging community participation in school-to-work initiatives, and providing teachers and career counselors with professional development about jobs and job skills seems a good starting point.

INNOVATE Hawaii (an MEP affiliate center) did its part by helping its customer, Concentris, expand their high-tech manufacturing capacity by helping them hire interns from the University of Hawaii.  You can bet that  opportunity gave those students a real understanding of what manufacturing looks like from a career perspective.

[1] Carnevale,  Anthony et al. Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020. Georgetown University. June 2013.

About the author

Stacey Wagner

Guest blogger Stacey Jarrett Wagner has more than 20 years of experience in workforce development, conducting research and providing strategic thinking and technical assistance on workforce development issues.

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Enabling the public, parents, teachers and students, the opportunity to see what manufacturing is all about first hand is what Manufacturing Day is for...this year it's Friday, October 4. In addition to the things cited in the blog, tours can help take the mystery out of making things and can connect people to encourage interest and excitement. Find a local tour, sign up to participate, and host an event can all be done at:
Hmmm... I must confess that I am both troubled and disappointed in your statement about The Big M (for which you did include manufacturing, not just medicine) "...which might not suit a person who likes clean, well-ordered and un-dramatic workplaces..." You are correct in both are "also often misunderstood in terms of job environment and career opportunities" but I do take great exception for the following reasons: (1) Yes, I am troubled that you seem to be perpetuating the myth that manufacturing is a dirty, not ordered, and boring workplace (what you appear to be suggesting), which fuels an erroneous perception that "it is a dead-end low-paying job that is probably going overseas anyway and is not suitable for a career today!" (2) Yes, I am also disappointed that this is posted on a NIST MEP Manufacturing Innovation Blog, implying that the above statement is always true, without providing any specific evidence to the contrary when it comes to the high tech high paying jobs you do mention, and omitting the fact that "clean, well-ordered" AND dramatic workplaces are much closer to reality! To better understand where I am coming from, consider reviewing the short youtube Edge Factor Metal & Flesh video (~ 6 minutes) at We (including the NIST MEP blog) should "inspire greatness" instead of perpetuating erroneous myths and perceptions, and "take a stand" in showing the next generation that we can make a difference, and how manufacturing "redefines what is possible" and help dreams become reality! To explore this further, feel free to contact me at any time! Dwighd Delgado c: (443) 280-1714 e: SOS [at] (SOS[at]stopsolutions[dot]com)
Dwight, I couldn't agree more about not perpetuating that old saw about manufacturing and the 4 D's. That was not my intent. In fact, you might want to watch my TEDx presentation on "Nostalgia Is So Yesterday" in which I talk about the fabulous future (now here) of manufacturing. I am completely in line with your thinking.

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