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Supply Chain News: Can the US Manufacturing be Viewed as Cool Again?


Despite Strong Recent Job Growth, Many Openings Remain, Shortage Expected to Get Much Worse, Limiting US Economic Growth

Jan. 16, 2019
SCDigest Editorial Staff

US manufacturing in general remains strong. One constraint on continued growth: a signficant worker shortage.

Last year, for example, US manufacturers added 284,000 net new jobs, capping its best calendar year since 1997. That's about 37% more manufacturing jobs than the 207,000 net new jobs in 2017.

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Haas also says that it is important that students understand there are rewarding careers available for those who take an alternative educational path.

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Manufacturing saw continued strong hiring in December, with an additional 32,000 jobs, according to a recent report from the Labor Department. Most of the gains occurred in blue-collar durable goods manufacturing, with growth in fabricated metals and computer and electronic products, the Labor Department said in a press release.

In fact, the National Association of Manufacturers estimates US manufacturers currently face "a workforce crisis," with more than half a million open jobs today, and 2.4 million jobs expected to go unfilled over the next decade.

So the tables have really turned, where the issue is no longer not enough manufacturing jobs, but rather not enough willing or qualified workers to fill the available jobs.

Seconding that perspective is Rick Haas, CEO of auto parts maker Mahindra Automotive North America and a board member of NAM.

Writing a guest column in the Detroit Free Press, Haas notes a recent study from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) that estimates that manufacturing accounts for approximately one-third of the US GDP, with each manufacturing employee generating another 3.4 jobs elsewhere along the supply chain, placing manufacturing at the heart of US economic prosperity.

But, Haas notes, the manufacturing sector is facing a talent shortage that he says if not addressed "will weaken the United States' global economic leadership position. Over the next decade, nearly 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in our country."

To do fill those position, Haas believes, the manufacturing sector must be perceived as "cool" again – and, he argues, it should be.

Manufacturing is active is many cutting-edge technologies, Haas notes, such as artificial intelligence and robotics.

These new technologies "will require the creativity and technological expertise that so many younger workers crave in their work," Haas says, adding that US manufacturing companies are in need of software developers, data scientists, engineers and others with high end technical skills.

Haas also notes that in fact manufacturers – not tech companies - actually perform more than three-quarters of all private-sector research and development in the US, driving more innovation.

This in turn provide significant opportunities for young talent to be involved in relevant, technological projects that have the potential to have a lasting economic and social effects.

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What's more, "Manufacturers are increasingly integrating new technologies in both products and processes and are at the cutting edge of advanced robotics, 3D printing and internet-of-things solutions," Haas adds. Ditto for newer technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced analytics to increase operating efficiency and output.

To help address current and future workforce challenges, the National Association of Manufacturers has nationwide built a perception campaign title "Creators Wanted" to help students see the promise of a careers in the manufacturing industry.

Haas also says that it is important that students understand there are rewarding careers available for those who take an alternative educational path, with Mahindra championing partnerships with the Michigan Congressional delegation and local communities on programs that encourage high school students to consider careers in advanced manufacturing.

It is important to note, Haas says, that most manufacturers offer apprenticeship programs and other valuable benefits, such as trade and professional education, for plant employees while they continue to work.

But, Haas says, it will take more than a sector-driven recruitment campaign to create enough interest in manufacturing careers.

Haas calls on Congress to support funding for additional STEM education as well as vocational programs, both of which would help students prepare for the workplace of the 21st Century.

"There is no doubt about it — manufacturing is cool again," Haas concludes. "Let's ensure that we continue to foster a full public and private sector commitment to advancing programs, like manufacturing apprenticeships and worker training, to provide a path for young people to achieve a rewarding career in advanced high-tech manufacturing. U.S. global competitiveness will depend on it."

Any reaction to Haas's perspective? Can manufacturing jobs be cool? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.



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