“Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.” ~Sir Winston Churchill
There has been much made about America losing its competitive edge in manufacturing overseas. Depending on who you ask, you will hear a variety of reasons on why we are losing our competitive edge. You will hear about productivity, pricing, environment and tariffs that have impacted our manufacturing industries. No doubt, those are some of the factors that have impacted our competitiveness. When you look at things without the filters, you will see that things just are not as bad as they appear, and America can easily retake the role of leader.
The U.S. has lost five million manufacturing jobs since 2000, and those losses have reverberated across the country. The scale of those losses has overshadowed areas of growth. For example, the number of workers employed manufacturing medical equipment and supplies has grown eight percent over the last two decades, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even as overall manufacturing employment has fallen 28 percent over that same time period. Manufacturing job losses have been concentrated in lower pay, lower skill jobs. Since 2000, jobs in manufacturing for people with graduate degrees have grown by 32 percent. While manufacturing jobs for people with less than a high school education fell 44 percent between 2000 and 2013, those for people with an associate degree in academic fields rose 17 percent.
Manufacturing and Innovation
The fact is, we can get right back in the game with the right approaches. We can now profitably get back into manufacturing through the cost advantages of automation and the ability to have skilled workers manage the outputs that previously were assigned to more than one person. It is a matter of transforming our most valuable resource … the human worker. Gone are the days of the unskilled and uneducated factory worker. The jobs that demand that type of labor will be lost to Mexico and China. The new American factory worker will be skilled and educated. It must become a national priority to dedicate the resources required to enhance the skills of our workforce so they align with the innovative practices that will further accelerate the modernization of America.
Manufacturing must start partnering with universities to provide manufacturers with opportunities to find creative solutions to existing problems and scout upcoming talent. Universities bring bigger talent pools and give manufacturers a closer look at candidates outside of a formal hiring process, allowing them to tap into the creativity of the next generation. Community colleges and trade schools provide resources for current staffers to take a few classes that will help their on-the-job performance. Many instructors in such programs create real-life scenarios that provide hands-on training and feedback that are essential for success in a manufacturing environment.
Finally, this includes a new approach from the C-Suite. Leaders must incorporate innovative, automated solutions to their manufacturing process that is supported by a skilled and educated workforce. This will require not only recruiting new talent, but retraining the experienced worker in their organizations to meet the more skilled demands of the future.