It has been an interesting 15 years for the US Manufacturing Sector. After 20 years of relatively plateaued employment, (1980 – 2000), the double kick of off shoring and a minor recession in 2002-2003 started a major slide in manufacturing employment. After stabilizing a bit, the second great recession in 2007 set in and manufacturing employment levels dropped to numbers not seen since pre-WWII.
All along, the economy itself continued to grow employment in non-manufacturing sectors, so that although employing the same number of people as 1940, the percentage of people in the manufacturing sector dropped from 40% of the workforce to less than 9%.
The current ramifications of this are multi-fold.
- Existing workers, having been burned (or more accurately, laid-off) by their investment in manufacturing, are reluctant to return to manufacturing.
- Wages have stagnated or union concessions in light of off shoring have made careers in manufacturing less enticing as they once were.
- The past generation of manufacturing workers, while either still engaged in it, or considering returning to it, is faced with new technology and automation that requires extensive re-education and training.
- The future generation of possible manufacturing workers is not even aware of it as a career option, due to its reduced visibility within the business sectors. (Where 4 out of 10 parents once came home and talked about their manufacturing jobs to their children, now only 9 out of 100 expose their children to the manufacturing story.)
As such, we as manufacturers need to start marketing ourselves. Not to a potential customer base, (as we always have), but to a potential workforce to ensure our ability to sustain the growth potential that exists for manufacturing.
We need to get involved with all levels of education, from Middle Schools, High Schools, and technical colleges to four-year institutions.
We need to impress on the workforce that while manufacturing is a technical business, there are a great many non-technical careers available in manufacturing, e.g. Personnel, Finance, Supply Chain, Production Planning, Customer Service and Sales, Marketing & Advertising, etc.
Lastly, manufacturers need to start getting over their cautious staffing approach and start adding some heads to their staffs and increasing wages. The manufacturing workers left standing since the last recession are both overworked and underpaid. It is hard to market a product that is not resoundingly endorsed by its current “customers” meaning employees or workers.
There is a call to action out there for Manufacturers. As with all opportunities, the individuals and management that see it and grasp it will be the winners. Those that are too internally focused or too slow to change direction will be the losers.
We plan to be a winner.