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LI students ‘have no idea’ what manufacturing is, execs say

Phil Rugile, director of LaunchPad Huntington, left, and

Phil Rugile, director of LaunchPad Huntington, left, and Rosalie Drago, Long Island regional director for the Workforce Development Institute, are shown at LaunchPad Huntington on Friday, May 20, 2016. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

More than 2,300 technology-related manufacturing jobs have been posted on Long Island over the last 12 months, according to a workforce skills nonprofit, yet executives said many students in the region are unaware of the career potential and even lack comprehension of what manufacturing is.

“If you [ask] a sixth-grader what manufacturing is, they probably have no idea,” said Teresa Ferraro, president of East/West Industries Inc., which makes aircraft seats and crew life-support systems.

Rosalie Drago, regional director of the nonprofit Workforce Development Institute Inc., which seeks to align workers’ skills with employers’ needs, said that Long Island manufacturers need workers who can use technology to solve problems.

“They’re not finding those people,” she said.

To shine a spotlight on the problem, WDI and Laundpad Huntington will host a Manufacturing Innovation Conference from 3 to 7 p.m. today at LaunchPad Huntington. Mike Vetter, engineering manager at East/West Industries, is scheduled to appear on a panel along with representatives of Farmingdale-based EB Industries LLC and GKN Aerospace, a British company with a facility in Amityville.

Drago said the event is the first step in turning the attention of Long Island school districts toward the high-paying job opportunities in their own backyard.

Of the 2,300 job postings, about 80 percent were in occupations with average salaries of more than $60,000, according to WDI, and about 40 percent were in occupations with average salaries over $100,000.

Phil Rugile, director of Launchpad Huntington, a business accelerator housing 26 companies that is hosting the event, said that school districts are gradually recognizing the value of technical skills.

Drago said she hopes to create connections between school districts that stress tech skills, and manufacturers that could provide jobs to graduates.

For students fixated on technology, a job could unleash their creativity, she said. “They can transfer that passion.”

Ferraro said the head count at East/West has grown from 50 a year ago to 63, and plans call for a workforce of 75 by the end of 2017.

She said the company needs machinists, assemblers and fabricators, jobs that don’t require a college degree.

“We’re going through a growth spurt,” she said, at a time that budget cuts are curtailing technical education in high schools.

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