This editorial first appeared in The Dallas Morning News. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Denton Record-Chronicle’s opinions.

With competition for employees at historic highs, one trade association is ramping up recruitment efforts to reach potential workers earlier and more creatively than ever. This is a smart approach that may be a harbinger of things to come.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) has created a campaign called “Creators Wanted” that will visit schools and community gathering places around the country in coming months to attract future workers to that industry. Creators Wanted features a tractor-trailer-mounted escape room and “immersive experience” designed to hold kids’ attention while also overcoming stereotypes that keep students from choosing careers in manufacturing. The rig will be parked in Dallas at the Tippie National Aviation Education Center in Red Bird through July 20.

Jamie Hennigan, NAM’s vice president of communications, told us workers are the only thing keeping the U.S. from dramatically growing its manufacturing output. According to the group’s estimates, that industry will need to fill 4 million jobs by 2030. The Creators Wanted campaign aims to reduce the skills gap in the U.S. by 600,000 workers by 2025, and increase the number of students enrolling in technical/vocational schools or reselling programs by 25%. Those are lofty ambitions, probably too lofty for a PR campaign and an escape room. But the impulse is well-conceived and perfectly timed.

Just this past week, more news broke about rising competition for skilled workers as the economy continues a strong rebound from the pandemic, especially here in North Texas. According to a survey of 3,000 companies by the staffing firm Robert Half, 6 in 10 Dallas-area firms plan to hire by the end of the year, more than any other market in the country except San Diego. And nationwide, many of those new job openings are in manufacturing, according to reporting from this newspaper’s business team.

Growing a skilled workforce is an area where Texas needs focus. According to a report from the think tank Texas 2036 last year, 71% of Texas jobs will require a postsecondary credential by 2036. But only 32% of Texas high school graduates earn such a credential within six years of graduation. That puts Texas dead last in that category among a group of peer states.

In addition to that need, NAM’s move here is smart in light of shifting attitudes about college. Pandemic disruptions along with the soaring price of college have left many potential students looking elsewhere for their future. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment in higher education dropped by 603,000 students this spring, seven times the decline from a year earlier, which was also down.

In the past, if industry groups competed for the attention of high school kids at all, which was rare, those efforts were aimed at the college-bound crowd. NAM’s campaign is an indication that is changing.

Creators Wanted is a clever approach that teens will enjoy. We encourage parents and guidance counselors to consider it. But the larger point here is about the pipeline of workers needed to ensure our economy can continue to grow. NAM has taken the initiative to improve that pipeline, putting them ahead of the competition for now. We hope to see others join that race soon.

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