Manufacturing Day was nationally proclaimed to be on October 7, 2016. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the many facets of the manufacturing industry to communities throughout the United Sates. Lars Folkerts, an intern here at IPS, attended a MFG Day event recently and recounts his experience in this article.
I attended the NYC Design for Manufacturing summit in Brooklyn last night, on Manufacturing Day’s Eve and I thought I would share what I learned.
The panelists were from many assets of manufacturing – garment manufacturers, manufacturing analysists, manufacturing startups, state/city manufacturing committees, product development companies, 3D printing and electronics manufacturing. The theme last night quickly turned into this: while there has traditionally been a decline in US manufacturing labor (even though we are producing more), as of 2011 this trend stopped, stagnated and is reversing. We are actually seeing more jobs in US manufacturing, but these jobs are… different. The unskilled labor of trimming loose threads or having “I Love Lucy” wrap chocolates is disappearing, but we are in huge demand for skilled workers. We actually need to import skilled workers from abroad to help out with the manufacturing process. The skills can be the ability to weld or solder weird shape parts the machines can’t handle; they can be the ability to read a CAD file to see if a part can be 3D printed; or they can be involved with technical maintenance of the automation machines.
Importing skilled workers is expensive to American businesses and hurts our economy, but there is a lack of supply of these people here. The best machinists come from Poland with not-such-cheap price tags. The manufacturing workforce is also all middle-aged to elderly, as no young people see value in these careers. There is a perception that manufacturing is underpaid, dirty and unsafe. However, the manufacturing workplace has changed since the Industrial Revolution (surprise?), and it is very clean and safe to work in. Also, in NJ, the average salary in manufacturing is significantly higher than the overall average salary. It’s a very promising career choice.
Still, it feels like most parents would prefer to send their kids to a four-year university. College has become part of the American definition of success, when it shouldn’t be. And the US and Germany have been leading the effort to domestically grow manufacturing skills. We have been reintroducing tech shop to High School classrooms and starting trade programs to let students get their Associate degree while still in High School. They have started to rename “apprenticeship” to “internship” to give more of a white collar feeling (because, unfortunately, white collar means accomplishment in American culture).
They also mentioned manufacturing is hurt by zoning laws that are formed from these old perceptions. Many manufactures can operate in the apartment next to you without you knowing – that is with no noise or pollution. But with the zoning laws they are confined to certain areas of the city – i.e. the Brooklyn Navy Yard – which may not suit their needs. Their opinion is that good jobs are more important than affordable housing in a city, and the two can be easily integrated.
For the future of US manufacturing, The Boston Consulting Group predicts that with automation getting cheaper, the US will be able to manufacture many goods cheaper than China by 2025!!! Part of that comes from automation, and another part of that is better use of human capital. Traditionally, if a worker needed parts to finish her part of the process, she needed to inform her manager, who would need to inquire about the parts. Once the manager heard back, they would need to inform the worker where to find them. Meanwhile the worker is twiddling her thumbs waiting to get what she needs. Now, that worker can look on her smartphone and instantly locate the tracked parts. By eliminating this management process, we make our human capital in manufacturing much more efficient and competitive in the global market. While the East has cheap human capital, we have technology-skilled labor that will soon become predominant. According to the people I met last night, US manufacturing has much brighter days ahead.
Featured image source: www.mfgday.com.