In recent years, companies of all sizes have faced considerable challenges in recruiting and retaining employees. The manufacturing sector has not been immune to these difficulties.

Manufacturing job projections for the coming years are staggering. The Manufacturing Institute (MI), the nonprofit workforce development and education arm of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), has projected that 4 million U.S. manufacturing jobs will need to be filled by 2030.

Of those openings, it is anticipated that 2.1 million could potentially remain unfilled if hiring trends do not change.

This shortage, according to MI, could cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion in 2030 alone. To help address these employment difficulties, we must motivate more people to embark on manufacturing careers.

MI is leading these efforts through initiatives such as MFG (Manufacturing) Day. Held annually on the first Friday in October, it is a day when manufacturing leaders across the country strive to inspire future generations of our workforce.

Today’s manufacturing jobs are not the dangerous, dirty, low-paying and laborious careers of previous generations. At Domtar — and numerous other manufacturing facilities throughout our country — employees engage in jobs that are innovative, high-tech, creative, collaborative, sustainable and safe.

One way we can reset long-lasting, misguided perceptions about the manufacturing industry is by connecting with our communities, particularly high school and college students and educators. In recent years, the manufacturing sector has witnessed a declining interest in STEM careers and vocations among students. This trend underscores the importance of raising awareness of high-paying and gratifying careers in manufacturing.

At Domtar’s Kingsport Mill, we are committed to doing our part to address this need.

Recently, we welcomed engineering students from East Tennessee State University and a group of Virginia teachers to our facility. Through guided tours and question-and-answer sessions, we increased awareness of career options available at Domtar, and we laid the groundwork for on going dialogue with students and educators.

Company-wide, Domtar recruiters attend college fairs to find talent to fill full-time, intern and co-op positions. Both co-op and intern opportunities can lead to full-time employment upon graduation. We offer scholarships to assist students seeking a dual degree (chemical/pulp paper), and we partner with several institutions, including NC State University, Miami University (Ohio), Western Michigan University, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Michigan Technological University.

Manufacturers should extend their outreach beyond students and educators, however. We also need to include those who have traditionally been underrepresented in manufacturing, particularly women.

Currently, less than one-third of all manufacturing jobs are held by females, and once in the industry, they are almost twice as likely to leave than their male counterparts. Encouraging STEM education interest in young women is vital, but we must also make efforts to retain female employees by addressing issues that lead to their exits.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are equally vital factors to addressing the workforce challenge and ensuring employees operate in settings that offer opportunities for advancement. Having a diverse workforce is an important first step, but we must also cultivate work environments that welcome all individuals.

I am confident that manufacturers can solve our work force issues — both today and in the coming decade — by engaging our next generation and demonstrating that all people have a place in manufacturing.

Similar to many Domtar facilities throughout North America, the Kingsport Mill is one of the largest employers in our region. We are also home to the second-largest 100 percent recycled containerboard machine in North America, and we are proud to be the largest recycled manufacturer in Tennessee.

We do not take those distinctions lightly, and that is why we consistently seek to hire talented individuals looking for opportunities to grow in careers that are skilled, tech-driven, collaborative and make a difference in our area.

Troy Wilson is the Kingsport Mill Manager for Domtar.

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