PERSPECTIVE: Manufacturing - Opening Minds to the New World of Innovation

by Bob Sobolewski With more than 4,500 manufacturing companies, Connecticut is no stranger to the world of innovation. In fact, some pretty cool things were first made here in our state — such as helicopters, erector sets, guitars, watches, sneakers, typewriters and bicycles. Most of these items continue to be mass-produced in plants of all sizes today — well, perhaps not typewriters.

Manufacturing employs more than 18.6 million people in the United States, and in the last few years manufacturing jobs have increased by 500,000, according to the National Association of Manufacturing (NAM). In Connecticut, there are about 160,000 people working in the manufacturing field, according to CT Department of Labor (DOL).

The bottom line is stuff has to be made — and Connecticut companies have an ongoing demand for production workers, mechanical engineers, CNC operators, machinists and much more. Unfortunately, many people have the wrong impression about manufacturing. These perceptions stem from a vast history of dark, dusty and dirty industrial environments.

Today is a far different picture as manufacturing plants now embrace new operational standards and LEAN processes. Most facilities maintain cleanliness, order and advanced technology so they can be as efficient and productive as possible.

Manufacturing is a process with many essential steps, including concept, design, sourcing, funding, production, testing, marketing, distribution and disposal. Staffing manufacturing companies requires many unique talents, especially in the high growth fields, such as precision machining, fiber optics and precision metal fabrication.

State and community colleges across Connecticut are now offering certificate and degree programs focused on different disciplines within manufacturing, so graduates can enter the field earning competitive salaries. For instance the median income for an aerospace engineering technician with a bachelor’s degree is about $77K, or a CNC operator with a certificate may earn a median income of $55K, according to the CT DOL.

Manufacturing is an ideal career for those who like to figure out how things work, or enjoy making things. It is also for those who thrive in a world of innovation and critical thinking. It is a field where creativity and curiosity opens the door for new methods, products and processes to be conceived and developed.

Manufacturing accounts for more research and development in the nation, creating more innovation than any other economic sector, according to NAM. Manufacturing is a key driver in our economy, bringing in $1.48 of economic activities for every $1 in manufactured goods.

This is why it is necessary to change perceptions and showcase all the positive aspects of the manufacturing landscape, especially as the older, more experienced workforce ages out. We need to invite students and their parents into Connecticut manufacturing plants for informational tours, so they can see the magic that happens inside the spaces.

We need to encourage internships for students, so they can experience the work environment first hand. We need teachers to become more connected to businesses through externships, so they can share the possibilities and excitement of the manufacturing field in their classrooms.

We need to ensure that curriculum design aligns with workforce demands so students come prepped and ready for a fulfilling career. And we need have people eager to take the helm to ensure all of the stuff essential to live, work and play is designed, made and distributed without missing a step.

To find out more about Connecticut’s manufacturing initiatives and how your company can become involved, visit


Bob Sobolewski is a 30-year business veteran who headed up the U.S. division of the multinational manufacturer, ebm-papst, inc, before retiring and starting a change management consulting business. Bob is immediate past chair of the CBIA Board of Directors and in 2012 founded ingenuityNE, a not-for-profit public charity to create interest and excitement in STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) among K-12 students throughout New England. He serves on the Executive Advisory Board for FIRST.