When you think of the American manufacturing industry, what immediately comes to mind? Do you immediately think of an industry in decline? Of disappearing factories and jobs? Do you consider manufacturing to be an industry of low wages for unskilled workers? Do your thoughts go to trade deficits with other countries, mainly China?
It’s true that manufacturing has taken some hard hits over the last decade. Millions of jobs have been lost due to the 2008 recession and out-sourcing to low-cost countries. And some areas have seen disproportionate factory closings.
But that’s not the whole story. A study by the Brookings Institution shows that for the past 50 years, industrial production in the United States has grown at the same or a faster rate than the economy as a whole. Meaning, manufacturing has not become less important to the U.S. economy. But the real growth sectors are shifting. Most of the industry expansion has taken place in computers and electronics, while other branches – such as automotive, aviation, and appliances – are seeing slower growth. According to the Brookings report, major revolutions are happening in energy robotics, materials, and applied information technology.
In order to compete effectively worldwide, U.S. manufacturers are finding ways to be more efficient and cost effective. Advanced technology and robotics are helping manufacturers to increase output and save money. While this does mean fewer workers are needed, it does not eliminate the need for human labor completely. Manufacturers are offering competitive wages for skilled employees who can work in more technologically advanced environments. These are good jobs in clean, high tech production facilities that often offer on-the-job training.
On Friday, October 7th, manufacturers nationwide will be celebrating MFG Day by opening their doors and inviting community members, especially students, to see what they do, how they do it, and the opportunities that exist. We encourage you to get out and see what manufacturing is doing in your community.