Can The National Spotlight On The Manufacturing Industry Change Public Sentiment Overnight?

In last week’s presidential debate, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump acknowledged manufacturing’s role in the economy, for better or worse.

The traditional images of hard working, blue collar Americans are as patriotic as flags flown on front porches, puppies in baskets and moms driving kids in soccer uniforms to practice. As the political season swings into high gear, these vestiges of Americana are routinely dusted off and paraded out. Manufacturing certainly gets its share of attention. This is a good thing.

In last week’s debate, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump acknowledged manufacturing’s role in the economy, for better or worse. What they might not be aware of, though, is that the industry is undergoing a major transformation. A newly invented manufacturing industry is on the horizon, changing everything from the types of jobs available to facilities needed and potential economic impact. Politicians and the general public both need to take another look at exactly how manufacturing influences the national economy, the stability of communities and the health and security of the workforce.

Now is the right time for that closer look. Manufacturing Day, October 7, is a day designated for education and overcoming misconceptions about manufacturing. First established in 2012 by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), Manufacturing Day is a chance for manufacturers to open their plants for tours and media events and encourage young people to once again consider jobs in manufacturing. 

That’s a big ask. A recent study conducted by Deloitte and National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) found that only 37 percent of respondents indicated they would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career. A recent poll conducted by the Foundation of Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, says 52 percent of all teenagers report no interest in a manufacturing career, calling manufacturing “a dirty, dangerous place that requires little thinking or skill from its workers and offers minimal opportunity for personal growth or career advancement.”

That old stereotype definitely hurts recruiting efforts. Also, the result of the Great Recession and the gut-wrenching images of gates locked, plants closed, communities crumbling with lost jobs, foreclosures and failing infrastructure leaves a lingering cloud. That’s in the past, too.

Modern manufacturing is focused on the future: high-tech, automated, streamlined, data-driven and able to compete globally. Digitalization is also transforming manufacturing, giving manufacturers disruptive technologies and new game-changing innovations to bring to market. Digitalization means internet-connected products, like your home’s front door, lights and appliances that you can monitor while at work. It also includes robotics, 3D printing and sensors to track the location of vehicles, like delivery trucks, and monitor environmental conditions, like making sure the truck delivering milk from the dairy to the local grocer maintains the right temperature throughout the journey.

Digitalization also gives the consumer a louder voice and a closer relationship with the manufacturer. Most consumers have spent time online shopping, communicating directly with the people who make the products, even designing customizations to the product, whether it is personalized shoes, a special order sofa in the fabric of their choice, team T-shirts or M&Ms with a special message. 

Change has been the one constant force in manufacturing over the last decade. Now, upheaval has reached a culminating point that many are calling revolutionary. As the election shines the national spotlight on the industry, we can take a closer look at the role manufacturing plays in our economy, spurring innovation, generating global commerce and building the commerce infrastructure in communities across the nation.

Innovation is now the name of the game. This is exciting, but it’s also challenging. Manufacturers need to get ahead of these rapidly changing trends. They need to take a leap of faith and invest in machinery and IT solutions. They also need a workforce with the right skills. From shop floor machine operators to financial analysts and data scientists, personnel need to be comfortable with technology and able to continue learning and adapt to changing situations. We can’t even predict the types of operational processes we might need in the future.   

But we do know that those old manufacturing jobs that were once the foundation of America are gone. They are not coming back. Robotics and automation have turned those manual processes into ultra-efficiency. But there are still jobs that need to be filled. It’s estimated over the next decade, nearly 3 and a half million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, largely due to retiring Baby Boomers. Of those, 2 million are expected to go unfilled. That has to change.

We can hope that Manufacturing Day will provide the much needed image refresh.  

More in Labor