Viewpoints: Manufacturing Jobs for the Future
It is no doubt that today's challenging economy is on everyone's mind. Its effects are evident everywhere you look. Unfortunately, manufacturing operations around the world are not immune to the downturn, and have been left to make difficult decisions about how they will position themselves to survive this current crisis. Despite these tough realities, it is during these challenging times that I am most optimistic about the many opportunities we manufacturers have before us—particularly the opportunity to evaluate everything we do and find better ways to do it. Slowed demand offers an excellent opportunity to step back and examine our operations for efficiencies, and having the right people on the team is essential to the business' success.
Manufacturing jobs play a vital role in making our economy work. In the recession of 2001, US manufacturing experienced large drops in exports, jobs, business investment, and demand. Despite these hardships, the manufacturing industry remained resilient and grew rapidly, with US manufacturing accounting for more than 11% of GDP, and serving as the eighth largest economy in the world. It is no surprise that manufacturing jobs directly affect employment in numerous other industries through the multiplier effect, and according to the National Association of Manufacturers (Washington, DC), more than one in six US private-sector jobs depends on US manufacturing. This further underscores the value of manufacturing jobs to our entire economy.
It is amazing to consider the impact one industry can have on the rest of the world's financial well being, and I am convinced that manufacturing will emerge from this latest recession an even stronger industry poised to jump-start the economy during the upturn. Even as the industry is currently losing jobs due to the economic pressures on our businesses, we as manufacturers need to continue to stress the importance of manufacturing jobs at all levels. This will enable us to build a talent pool for the future of manufacturing in the US. We need to take every opportunity to partner with educational institutions—grade schools, high schools, technical schools, colleges and universities—to spread the word about viable careers in the manufacturing field. Educating children, particularly at an early age, about the career opportunities available to them in various aspects of manufacturing will encourage them to consider our industry. When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, they most likely will respond with something along the lines of a doctor, a lawyer, a nurse, a firefighter or a superhero, because these are the occupations they see and hear about in the mass media. I have yet to see a video game where the main character is a skilled machine operator, an engineer or a quality specialist, which not only increases our call for action, but also forces us to get more creative in how we go about promoting the viability of a future in manufacturing to our young people.
Over the years, many skeptics have said that US manufacturing is a dying industry. Of course, I would disagree with this statement. A recent manufacturing biweekly update issued by the US Department of Commerce reports that manufacturing currently employs approximately 12.7 million people in the US, and despite challenging economic conditions, manufacturing wages continue to rise. In addition, jobs in manufacturing today average annual compensation of more than $65,000—the highest in the private sector.
Now is the time to find ways to continuously improve our operations and continue to invest in our people. Building the talent pipeline to ensure future growth in our industry is vital, and we must each do our part to make a difference. I believe that manufacturing will continue to manage through these challenging times, and not only will we survive, we will take the industry to the next level and beyond during the upturn.
This article was first published in the May 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.