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How is Manufacturing Viewed? Survey Says …

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

What do Americans think about manufacturing? Are people aware of the vast number of manufacturing jobs available? Will U.S. manufacturers be able to hire enough qualified workers?

Recent surveys offer intriguing clues. Information services provider Thomas released its Manufacturing Perception Report in early October, which focused on Americans’ views of manufacturing. The good news? Most of those surveyed (76%) were very or somewhat familiar with the manufacturing industry. The bad news? Americans are largely unaware of the current strength of manufacturing.

“It was surprising to see that half of the respondents feel that the current state of the manufacturing industry is ‘stable but weak or in decline.’ In fact, the opposite holds true: the state of manufacturing is greater than ever,” said Tony Uphoff, president and CEO of Thomas.

The survey found a strong affinity for U.S. products, with 61% of respondents preferring products made in America. Also, 67% said they are very likely or somewhat likely to encourage someone in the workforce to pursue a career in manufacturing.

It’s great that people are more aware of manufacturing job opportunities, but how do we get those workers onboard? SME led a media roundtable on that very topic at IMTS 2018. It focused on two new SME reports; the key findings include:

Among responding companies, 76% do not have a talent development strategy for manufacturing employees,according to the “Tooling U-SME Industry Pulse: 2018 Manufacturing Workforce Report.” However, 75% of respondents offer internships for students in manufacturing, and 69% support community college programs.

One-quarter of companies consider lack of corporate leadership and a strategic plan as a barrier to adoption of digital technologies, according to SME’s third Smart Manufacturing report, “Building Talent to Accelerate a Digital Transformation.” “You have to build a smart workforce” to keep up with the pace of technological advancement, said Christine Longroy, SME’s automotive industry manager.

John Hindman, director of learning and performance improvement for Tooling U-SME, said employee engagement is key. “They’re not going to sit in and run the same machine for the next 30 years,” he advised. “They’re going to want to look for different opportunities within that organization.”

One company engaging its employees is LAI International (Tempe, AZ), a provider of engineered components. CEO P.J. Gruetzmacher explained that LAI has “a very structured onboarding program” that requires every associate to complete a checklist while learning about the business, its stakeholders and elements of the strategic plan.

It’s clear there has been progress on the perception of manufacturing, and interest among prospective workers is growing, but more must be done. Manufacturers must keep pushing the envelope in attracting, hiring and retaining skilled workers.

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