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Montana manufacturers grapple with workforce shortage

Posted at 6:18 PM, Jun 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-26 20:18:10-04
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ9Dz5A9RJI?rel=0&showinfo=0]

BOZEMAN – The manufacturing industry is experiencing a shortage of workers.

According to Jenni West, associate director of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center at Montana State University, “this year the percent of manufacturers across the state that reported a shortage of workers doubled since last year.”

And with plenty of work happening in the manufacturing industry, they need more and more workers continually.

“So manufacturing, of course, is facing pretty intense workforce shortages, partially due to baby boomers retiring. We’re seeing a lot of people exiting the workforce, especially in manufacturing and we don’t have the skilled labor to back them up to fill those gaps,” said West Paw Manufacturing Training Manager Nikki Dixon-Foley.

Dixon-Foley would know; she is in the industry herself and sees the challenges of having these shortages. West says this shortage may relate to false perceptions of the industry.

“Manufacturing in the 30’s and 40’s was dirty, it was hot, it was sweaty, it was really hard work. It could be dangerous and I think people kind of have a tendency to think about those times and people wanted to get away from that. It’s definitely not that way for, I would say, the vast majority of manufactures in Montana. It’s really interesting work,” she said.

And as Dixon-Foley helps to operate West Paw, the Bozeman-based dog toy manufacturing company, she agrees it’s interesting work that sometimes isn’t always known about.

“We have to pull in workforce that may not know about us, and maybe understand what manufacturing is about. Our challenges are to educate the public and our community about what our work really looks like,” Dixon-Foley said.

West Paw and other manufacturing companies are a part of the Greater Gallatin Valley Manufacturing Partnership. They go into high schools and other institutions to educate younger generations and excite them about the industry.

As the industry leaders continue to educate high school students and graduates, they hope that it influences them to want to take on manufacturing as a career.