HARRISONBURG — As students young and old visit factories in the Valley to learn about work opportunities, an industry group released a report on Tuesday showing the nation’s manufacturing activity contracted in September.

The Institute for Supply Management’s “snapshot” showed the worst reading in a decade, according to The Associated Press.

But the report is not indicative of the industry as a whole, said Tom Nelli, vice president of manufacturing at the Cadence facility in Staunton, which produces medical equipment.

“It doesn’t mean jobs or manufacturing plants are being lost,” he said.

The data came during Manufacturing Week — an annual event to encourage employment in the sector.

Nearly half of the jobs created between 2019 and 2022 are projected to require skills above high school, but not those of typical four-year degrees, according to the National Skills Coalition.

Community colleges, such as Blue Ridge, and learning centers, such as Massanutten Technical Center, are not the only ways students learn about the manufacturing industry.

On Friday, 250 sixth-graders from Elkton, Montevideo and J. Frank Hillyard middle schools toured the Shickel Corp. facility in Bridgewater, said Jeff Stapel, the human resources manager.

“We recognize that students are not necessarily deciding what they want to do, but they’re starting to eliminate what they don’t want to do by the fifth or sixth grade,” Stapel said.

Bringing youth into manufacturing sectors helps to remove the negative stereotypes around manufacturing, Stapel and Nelli agreed.

“To really come in and see the various jobs has more impact than just talking to them in a classroom,” Stapel said.

The tour was for Steel Day, which is the steel industry’s celebration day organized by the American Institute of Steel Construction.

“There’s a lot of trade organizations that are doing promotions right now to encourage people’s interest and knowledge about working in trade manufacturing,” Stapel said.

To help the industry nationwide, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., has introduced the Jumpstart Our Businesses By Supporting Students bill along with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, which would expand the eligibility of need-based grants.

“The idea is to enable Pell Grants to be used for high-quality technical education programs, even if they’re not on a college campus,” Kaine said during an interview with the Daily News-Record editorial board on Tuesday.

Kaine and Portman’s bill would also decrease the time requirements of classes to receive a Pell Grant, down from 600 hours or 15 weeks to 150 hours over at least eight weeks.

There were 7.2 million unfilled jobs in July, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I do see it as a long-term solution, but I also see it as righting a historical inequity that in our policy at the federal level, we basically disadvantage careers in technical education,” Kaine said.

Most workers who get short-term credentials often see wage increases of 20% to 50%, sometimes even more, according to data from the Virginia Community College System.

And Nelli is also positive about future opportunities in the manufacturing sector.

“Manufacturing as a whole is coming back and doing very well,” Nelli said.

Contact Ian Munro at 574-6278 or imunro@dnronline.com. Follow Ian on Twitter @IanMunroDNR

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