The manufacturing industry has a hiring challenge: young adults entering the workforce aren't gravitating to the field like they used to. 

While the jobs pay well and have a much bigger technical focus than in years past, the perception among students is that they aren’t glamorous enough. The reality is much different, but getting that message across hasn’t been easy. 

Meanwhile, the demand is great. Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, according to a report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute
Two million of those are expected to go unfilled, thanks largely to a skills gap. 

That’s why on this year’s Manufacturing Day – an annual event organized by the National Association of Manufacturers to showcase industry job opportunities – PepsiCo is going to the source to find workers: high schools. 

In Perry, Ga., PepsiCo's Frito-Lay North America division has launched a pilot training program with the Houston County, Ga., Board of Education, Houston County Career Academy and Central Georgia Technical College to ensure young adults know that today's manufacturing jobs require computer, information technology, or other technical knowledge. They require specialized training and certifications, along with strong math and problems-solving skills. 

Started this year, the pilot program hosts 16 juniors and seniors from six high schools at the Career Academy, where they learn about industrial maintenance, getting hands-on experience in fields like machine alignment, electricity and mechanical fundamentals. Small-scale versions of the same equipment used in the local Frito-Lay factory reside in the school's lab, letting students problem-solve on real world objects, such as segments of the production lines for chips and bagging systems. 

Students are transported to the Career Academy and spend two class periods learning about industrial maintenance and mechanics, before returning to their schools for standard subjects like language and math. 

Frito-Lay’s Craig Hoffman and Austin Holland demonstrate equipment in the HCCA Industrial Maintenance Lab

Frito-Lay’s Craig Hoffman and Austin Holland demonstrate equipment in the HCCA Industrial Maintenance Lab.

This real-world experience earns them high school credits — and lays the groundwork for entry-level employment in manufacturing. Once they complete the program, they're eligible to interview for Frito-Lay's apprenticeship program. If they’re accepted, the program pairs them with mentors at the Perry manufacturing facility for on-the-job training. And even if students opt not to work there, they're still well prepared for other manufacturing positions.

"Yes, it's going to benefit Frito-Lay, but it's also going to benefit the Houston County area," says Gregg Roden, senior vice president for supply chain at Frito-Lay North America. "Our hope is that all the participating students take the skills they learn and use them to achieve gainful employment, whether at FLNA or with other local manufacturers.” 

The initial pilot program ended up getting twice as many students as it expected in its first semester. And officials are expecting even more next year. 

"There's a high interest in manufacturing," says Sabrina Phelps, principal at the Houston County Career Academy. "Students are actively engaging in working with the trainers. They've done research projects on what the career entails. ... We have the capacity to grow and we're hopeful enrollment will continue to increase. I feel it will, because the best recruitment is word of mouth and students are going back to their high school and telling others about this program." 

While the Perry program is Frito-Lay North America’s first outreach into high schools, PepsiCo has a long history of working with vocational schools and technical colleges to prepare students for manufacturing careers, often bringing top talent on board as interns, then transitioning them to full-time employees when they graduate. 

For example, PepsiCo North America Beverages is working with technical schools in Texas to identify and hire high schools seniors who could benefit from earning co-op credits and work experience while finishing their studies. 

"We can't approach solving today’s technical challenges with the same old approaches to talent management," says Dave Lapp, senior vice president for supply chain and operations at PepsiCo North America beverages and Quaker Foods.  “We need to be more proactive and competitive when attracting this next generation of technical leaders."

Before the expansion of the Georgia high school program happens, Frito-Lay wants to watch how things go in Perry. But they've already had interest and conversations with other school districts around the country. 

"We've had a couple interesting conversations with other communities that are very interested in how they might get this off the ground," says Roden. "But it takes a very strong partnership between the school system, the local technical college and the Frito-Lay location in the area to work."

— Chris Morris