Skip the Beach--Head to the Assembly Plant!

Spring break is right around the corner, and many families, especially here in the Midwest, will be heading to warmer climes to thaw out.

As tempting as that might be, allow me to offer an alternative—a factory.

Yes, I know, you work in a factory every day. You go on vacation to escape the factory. But hear me out.

Despite an unemploy­ment rate hovering around 8.6 percent, U.S. manufacturers face a significant talent shortage. A recent study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute found that 5 percent of manufacturing jobs remain unfilled simply because people with the right skills are not available. That translates to 600,000 available U.S. jobs.

Part of the problem is that we’re producing too many graduates with liberal arts degrees and not enough people with technical and vocational skills.

Manufacturing also suffers from a poor public image. Although most Americans consider manufac­turing important, a Deloitte study found that less than 20 percent of parents think there’s a future for manufacturing or would encourage their children to enter manufacturing-related fields.

This image of manufacturing does not match reality, of course. You know manufacturing isn’t “dumb, dirty and dangerous.” You know manufacturing can be a rewarding and challenging career. But do your children?

If the nation’s factories are to be assured a steady supply of skilled workers and engineers, we must get young people jazzed about manufacturing. Taking a factory tour is a great opportunity to do just that. They are a fantastic learning experience, often with an opportunity to sample the products right off the assembly line.

Many factories offer regularly scheduled tours, and many others are happy to provide tours by appointment.

WeGoPlaces Tourism has recently posted 80 factory tours to its travel Web site. Located across the United States and Canada, the tours include Airstream trailers in Jackson Center, OH; Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Waterbury, VT; American Whistle Corp. in Columbus, OH; BMW in Spartanburg, SC; Boeing Commercial Airplane in Mukilteo, WA; Cape Cod potato chips in Hyannis, MA; Crayola crayons in Easton, PA; and Fender guitars in Corona, CA.

Another good source for factory tours is the travel guide, Watch It Made in the U.S.A., compiled by factory-tour experts Karen Axelrod and Bruce Brumberg. Their guide contains info on more than 300 factory tours.

Most tours take less than two hours. When planning to attend a factory tour with a large group, be sure to call ahead to make a group reservation. Individual visitors or small group walk-ins usually don’t require a reservation. Be sure to check the tour hours. Many tours are seasonal, or limited to week days. Some factory tours are free, and others require an admission fee. Fees may vary depending on the group size.

Heading to Europe this summer? Why not break up the endless array of cathedrals, castles and museums with a visit to an assembly plant? Volkswagen’s transparent assembly plant in Dresden, Germany, is an eye-popping experience.

If you know a factory that offers tours, share it with us. What do you think? How else can we get our children interested in manufacturing careers?

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