UpFront: Manufacturing Moves Into the Spotlight
By Sarah A. Webster
Editor in Chief
While many view manufacturing as in crisis, important groundwork is actually being laid for a renaissance in advanced manufacturing.
On Dec. 12, as hundreds gathered at the University of Michigan for the fourth and final regional meeting of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), a working group advising President Barack Obama on how to re-invigorate the sector, the president announced two new cochairs for the White House Office of Manufacturing Policy.
Commerce Secretary John Bryson and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling will head up the office, which is part of the National Economic Council and was previously headed by former auto czar Ron Bloom.
The move shows the administration is serious about the work that needs to be done to bolster manufacturing—and the jobs that it could provide, especially in this election year.
About 600,000 open manufacturing jobs already exist and remain unfilled because of the well-documented skills gap in the US. It’s an unconscionable situation at a time when the US unemployment rate remains about 9%, with 13 million Americans unemployed.
Organizations like SME, along with exciting new partners, such as the Edge Factor (a video series that shows real people using extreme technology), are working creatively and furiously to solve the problem, as Mark C. Tomlinson, CEO of SME, and Bart Aslin, CEO of the SME Education Foundation, write in this month’s "Focus on the Workforce."
It’s good to know that SME’s work in this area is being bolstered by others, right on up to the White House. So much needs to be done—from improving the image of manufacturing to getting young people to be interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to fixing a raft of dysfunctional policies.
Taken together, the challenges facing US manufacturing might seem daunting. But help is on the way, through the new White House office, AMP, organizations like SME, individual manufacturers and new partnerships and initiatives being launched, big and small, every day.
Already, "an amazing amount of progress has been made in a very short time," Rosina Bierbaum, a professor at U-M’s School of Natural Resources and a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), said at the AMP meeting. I take comfort in the fact that smart, important people are finally getting together to solve these challenges, with a good grasp of the stakes. This is about much more than jobs. This is about national security and valuing a culture of education and innovation—things worth fighting for.
This article was first published in the January 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.