MILFORD, Neb. (AP) — Good-paying manufacturing jobs are going begging in Nebraska and other states even as their total number continues to decline.
The daily drudgery on a grimy plant floor or assembly line has become a high-tech challenge that demands highly developed job skills.
Monte Specht, dean of Southeast Community College's manufacturing technology, said people don't realize the changes in manufacturing, where innovation and creativity are now more prized than a strong back and rote execution skills. Nebraska's manufacturing rolls hit 110,000 in 2000 but have dipped since. According to figures from the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, Mo., in August Nebraska had 101,000 manufacturing jobs — a decline of 1,000 from 102,000 in August 2006.
Automation has supplanted the unskilled worker, Specht said, and it takes the skilled worker to program and maintain the machines that have increased productivity.
Those workers are tougher and tougher to find and retain.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says U.S. manufacturing and supporting sectors can expect a skilled worker shortage of 8 million by 2010 and 14 million by 2020.
To address the shortage, last year Nebraska began its version of the ''Dream It. Do It.'' campaign. It is aimed at raising interest in manufacturing and the skills of manufacturing workers.
Executive director Dwayne Probyn said it's too early to judge the campaign's success, but he says it's needed. Every day he hears about plants that can't be expanded because there aren't enough skilled workers to fill the new space.
The National Association of Manufacturers and The Manufacturing Institute developed the campaign, which began in 2005 and has expanded to Nebraska, southwest Virginia, northeast Ohio, Washington state and elsewhere.
The Nebraska program's message to workers, as outlined on its Web site:
''We'll help you identify the kind of career that best fits you. If you can tell us what interests you have and something that you are passionate about, we have the tools and resources to guide you to a career in manufacturing that best suits you.''
Young people who will be entering the work force have had little exposure to manufacturing, said Elaine Vavra, an instructor at Southeast Community College.
Tight school budgets have squeezed out shop classes and technical classes are leaving class offerings in general, she said.
''If the student has never been exposed to it, how are they going to know'' about manufacturing as a career, Vavra said.