U.S. Manufacturing’s Brave New World
After losing 6 million manufacturing jobs between 2001 and 2009, the American manufacturing sector has reemerged as a beacon in an otherwise lackluster economic recovery. While many Americans believe that U.S. manufacturing is dying, unbeknownst to most of them, U.S. factories today produce about 75 percent of what they consume. The future growth, however, of American manufacturing—for both domestic and export consumption—will be predicated on what is touted as “advanced manufacturing.”
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, an advisory group of preeminent scientists and engineers, defines “advanced manufacturing” as a family of activities that either depend on the use and coordination of information, automation, computation, software, sensing, and networking, and/or make use of cutting-edge materials and emerging capabilities enabled by the physical and biological sciences, including nanotechnology, chemistry, and biology. Advanced manufacturing involves both new ways to manufacture existing products, and the manufacture of new products emerging from advanced technologies.
These advanced manufacturing opportunities are available now and will be in the future, if industry leaders and government policymakers are able to capitalize on them. For instance, while total manufacturing employment has declined in recent years, high-skilled manufacturing employment opportunities have increased by upwards of 40 percent since 1980. Yet, according to an October 2011 survey of American manufacturers conducted by Deloitte Consulting, respondents reported that 5 percent of their jobs—or 600,000 jobs—remained unfilled simply because they could not find workers with the right skills for the positions, and that this employee deficiency was having a negative impact on their ability to expand operations or improve company productivity.
While many Americans believe that U.S. manufacturing is dying, unbeknownst to most of them, U.S. factories today produce about 75 percent of what they consume.
Potential solutions to this advanced manufacturing skills deficiency abound. According to Manufacturing’s Wake-Up Call, a 2011 joint study undertaken by the University of Michigan’s Tauber Institute for Global Operations and consulting firm Booz & Company, high schools and universities (including community colleges) must improve their vocational training and guidance roles to ensure that young students are made aware of diverse career paths in advanced manufacturing. Also, a national Manufacturing Skills Certification System has been developed and is administered by the Manufacturing Institute, an industry nonprofit affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers. The Manufacturing Institute has so far developed credentials for advanced manufacturing in production, machining and metalworking, welding, technology and engineering, automation, die casting, fabrication, fluid power, and distribution and logistics. Furthermore, the Manufacturing Institute is developing certification in aviation, aerospace, and bioscience. In June 2011, President Obama announced a national goal of credentialing 500,000 community college students with these manufacturing skill certifications.