A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Demand grows, wages rise for skilled workers in physics-related industry


It's one thing to bemoan the decline of science and math education or scientific illiteracy among adults. It's quite another to put some sweat into working toward a solution.

 Meyer Tool and Manufacturing  and the Cryogenics Society of America demonstrated just how to do that last week during an open house in Oak Lawn, Illinois.

They offered an interactive tour of the cryogenic and high-vacuum manufacturing factory, information about careers in manufacturing and engineering and a presentation by Fermilab's Mr. Freeze, a persona adopted by physicist Jerry Zimmerman for cryogenics demonstrations aimed at teaching school children how liquid nitrogen works and how it is used at the particle physics laboratory .

The open house was part of the year-long Science Chicago outreach extravaganza. It seeks to create enthusiasm for science, math and science education by highlighting science activities, research and career opportunities in the Chicago area.

Meyer Tool has worked with Fermilab to develop high-tech equipment for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory.  The United States is a major partner in LHC research, and Fermilab hosts a remote operation center for one of the accelerator's major particles detectors, known as CMS for Compact Muon Solenoid.

While Meyer Tool provides products for both US-based and European-based experiments, the company also advocates a strong role for science on American soil, as evidenced by excerpts from its press release for the open house.

This event is important on many levels. A push to strengthen math and
science knowledge in the United States is a critical part of our
national agenda to keep America competitive as a nation into the future.
The sponsors believe that continued strength in manufacturing is also
key to the nation's success. Without protecting our ability to create
and manufacture here in the States, we will become overly dependent on
foreign sources who, as China's recent troubles highlight, may not
adhere to the same safety or quality standards as Americans expect.

With so much manufacturing going overseas and the skilled-trades workforce graying here at home, company officials say they feel an obligation to get the word out. "We want people to know that manufacturing is still going strong," says Eileen Cunningham, president of Meyer. "We want people to realize that manufacturing offers viable career choices that are in high demand and provide an opportunity to earn a good living."

The current skills shortage in manufacturing-related trades is expected to worsen over time as talented workers hit retirement age with no one to replace them. Schools have cut shop programs, and most parents want their children to go to college rather than go into the trades.  This labor shortage has caused wages to rise, a trend that is likely to continue.

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