Manufacturing makes a comeback in Bay Area

Manufacturing is a growing industry in the Tampa Bay area, but there aren’t enough skilled people to fill the jobs.

It’s a challenge companies face across the state, and Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to pump $36 million into vocational and technical training programs to help meet those demands.

Roy Sweatman, the president of Tampa-based Southern Manufacturing Technologies, said there are challenges the industry faces to get people interested in a technical career. He said the local industry is growing.

“It could grow faster if we could get the skilled people,” said Sweatman. “We've just been awarded some new business that's going to stretch us, and we're going to need these people learning quickly so they're able to do the work.”

SMT does cutting edge and complex work, producing parts for companies across the country.

“We make parts for small airplanes that a private pilot would fly, to regional jets and 737s, missile defense systems and fighter jets,” said Shannon Sweatman, the chief technology officer.

Not having a large enough pool of people to hire from to fill the jobs open from retirees or newly created is a problem plaguing companies across the state and the country.

“Over the last few decades, there's been a big push that the only way you can be successful is to get a degree from a university. And that's not true,” said Roy Sweatman.

And that's not the only challenge.

“Another part of it is a lot of people feel manufacturing is all done in China. That's not true. You can see it's being done here in the bay area,” he said.

Some workers at SMT are college students in a three to four-year apprenticeship, which is exactly how Roy Sweatman got his start in the industry.

“They get hands-on experience. It's really great for someone like a mechanical engineer to get hands-on experience with making parts,” he said.

Sweatman’s daughter Shannon hopes to keep bringing in that talent. She spends a lot of time recruiting at schools, looking for that spark of interest in students.

“I think that schools do a disservice by not making students aware that there are these great opportunities available to them,” she said.

The website Glassdoor states a person can make nearly $40,000 on average for an entry-level job. Sweatman said high school students he trains under the apprenticeship can finish the program without any debt because they are working full-time while they learn the trade.

Governor DeSantis will ask for the extra money for vocational training programs when the legislature meets in March.