Why NOT Manufacturing?

Did you watch the presidential debate last Tuesday night?  I did, it was the best debate that I’ve ever seen.  Many others with longer frames of reference than me are saying the same thing.

This isn’t a blog where I’m going to analyze the debate and weigh in on who I think won and who lost.  There are thousands of media types and bloggers that have that job, and they are welcome to it.

But there was a moment in the “town hall” debate last Tuesday where one of the audience members asked what the candidates proposed to help college students have more opportunities to land jobs after graduation.  Both candidates included manufacturing in their responses.  It wasn’t the first or the last time that manufacturing was mentioned that night, which is a good thing.

One of the great things about Twitter is that you can read and post commentary about live events as they happen.  It was very interesting to read my Twitter timeline during the debate.  I stopped when an old friend, who happens to be a member of the media (notice I didn’t say “liberal” or “left-wing” media), sent out a tweet saying that college graduates would not be interested in working in manufacturing.  Obviously, that didn’t sit well with me, and we had a bit of back and forth about it yesterday.

One of the other interesting things that I’ve noticed about this election year is the higher level of interest shown by younger people.  My daughter, a high school junior that is too young to vote, has watched all of the debates so far.  And so have many of her friends.  Can you imagine being interested enough to follow presidential and vice-presidential debates at age 16 or 17?  I can’t.  That was a real eye opener for me.

Anyway, my daughter was having Twitter exchanges during the debate with her friends as well.  One of her friends commented that no one should believe that high-wage, high-skill jobs would be found in manufacturing.

So in real-time during the debate exchange on the topic, friends of ours in the media AND a great student were stating their doubt that manufacturing could be part of the jobs solution for those with an education.

Folks, this is the perception that we have to turn around.

If the media doesn’t think we are viable as an industry and as job creators, that’s a big problem.  If students don’t think we are a viable career path, that’s a HUGE problem.  If no one out there is telling the story of manufacturing, and up-and-coming entrants into the workforce won’t give us a look, our days as a viable industry are numbered.  I know, many people have been saying that for years, but I happen to think that rumors of our demise are a bit premature.

 Here are some highlights about the economic impact of manufacturing in America:

  • Manufacturing accounts for 12.2% of US GDP
  • Manufacturing employs 12 million people, or 9% of the workforce
  • Manufacturing unemployment rate 11.5% BELOW the national average
  • Manufacturing annual earnings 36.8% ABOVE the national average
  • 19.4% of all good manufactured globally are made in the US
  • If the US manufacturing economy were its own country, it would rank #9 in the world

Can you believe that we have people that don’t understand the impact and opportunities of manufacturing in this country?  It’s mind blowing.  We have to change the decades-old perception that manufacturing is a dying industry, and we have to do it quickly.

Take a look around wherever you are right now.  Anything man made that you see was MANUFACTURED somewhere.  We really couldn’t live our daily lives as we do today without manufacturing.

We have to get this information out there, by any means necessary, so that the next generation understands that we WANT highly skilled, educated people in our manufacturing businesses and that they have the opportunity to earn ABOVE AVERAGE income in exchange for those skills.

Many others have written about the outreach efforts that are needed for manufacturing but are lacking at present.  Tuesday’s debate crystallized the need as starkly as ever for me.

Bryan Peters

200,000 “replacement workers” Needed for Ohio Manufacturing Jobs

According to a 2010 Ohio Manufacturing Association report, manufacturing was the top private sector employer, comprising 14.11 percent of Ohio jobs in 2008, higher than health care and retail trade, second only to government. As older workers retire it is estimated 200,000 replacements will be needed.[1]

Further complicating matters is advancing technology, which requires new workers to have greater skills and problem-solving abilities. Today’s advanced manufacturing is not your father’s job. No longer is it a repetitive, mundane, minimal involvement job. Todays machinist are pretty much in control and responsible for his/her operation. Somewhat like a mini company within a company.

According to the bureau of labor statistics the annual mean wage for industries with the highest published employment, machinist wages are $40,000 which is comparable to computer operators, massage therapists, and social workers.[2]  The money is there, the jobs are going unfulfilled, and the future of these jobs is long-term. So why aren’t more folks gravitating to this industry…the negative stereotype of years past. Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturing Association said  “We in manufacturing need to do a better job of communicating the opportunities that are available in manufacturing and we need our public partners to assist in that”[3]

Isothermal Community College (Spindale, North Carolina) is combating the metalworking industry’s skilled labor shortage by altering young people’s misperceptions about manufacturing and improve the industry’s view of community colleges. They have made a substantial investment in modern machine tools. Most community colleges are teaching with machines that have been donated to them. These are basically antiques which advanced machining techniques cannot be taught. Mike Saunders made the statement “To upgrade our workforce and get more people interested in manufacturing, it is going to take a financial commitment on the part of the colleges, support by the manufacturing community, and getting the word out to our high school students that manufacturing is a great career.

Ohio is not the only state with a skilled labor shortage. Throughout the United States there is an estimated 500,000 manufacturing jobs unfulfilled because of the lack of skilled labor. Despite the nay sayers, manufacturing is not dead in the U.S., it is a problem of staffing.

Joe Panfalone
Application Engineer

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[1]Dayton Daily News Sunday, August 21, 2011

[2]Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2011 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States

[3]Dayton Daily News Sunday, August 21, 2011