Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong national economy. This is the conclusion of the annual Public Viewpoint on Manufacturing survey assessing the perceptions and understanding of manufacturing issues.
Most survey respondents (71%) feel manufacturing is a national priority, and 59% feel U.S. manufacturing effectively competes on a global scale. Survey organizers Deloitte LLP and The Manufacturing Institute say public perceptions are that manufacturing has a larger role in overall economic prosperity than do industries like technology, energy, healthcare, retail, communications, and financial services.
But Americans do not consider manufacturing a good career choice. Only 17% said manufacturing was one of their top two industry choices for starting a career, and just 30% of parents would encourage their kids to look at manufacturing jobs.
“America’s belief that manufacturing jobs are not clean, safe, or interesting may have been accurate at one time, but it’s no longer the case,” said Craig Giffi, Deloitte vice chairman and U.S. Consumer & Industrial Products industry leader.
Despite the loss of some plant jobs associated with a straining economy and migration to lower-wage countries, there are also manufacturers struggling to get qualified employees for today’s high-tech workplace.
“This problem is getting worse as the baby boom generation retires,” said John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). “We must inspire more young people to prepare for and pursue careers in manufacturing if we want to remain globally competitive.”
It’s the same problem in other Western countries—such as the United Kingdom, which has its own Manufacturing Institute to promote manufacturing as a career choice. The UK Manufacturing Institute launched the “Make It Enterprising” challenge. Under the program, 14- and 15-year-old students set up their own mini-manufacturing business teams, and the teams compete nationally. Some 500 students and 100 teachers have taken part in the last year.
Oily Rags Don’t Define Modern Manufacturing
What have these students learned? “That oily rags and dark satanic mills have little relevance to modern manufacturing,” says the UK Manufacturing Institute. In fact, giving students firsthand experience in manufacturing helps erode their negative perceptions so effectively that 60% of participants say they would consider a career in manufacturing, and 11% say it would be their first career choice.
The U.S. Manufacturing Institute and NAM developed the Dream It. Do It. campaign to help shape and strengthen a new generation of skilled manufacturing talent. With the right programs and the help of leaders from manufacturing, education, and other disciplines, they hope to change the attitudes of young people about careers in manufacturing and provide them with educational and training opportunities. The program has grown into a network of 17 regional alliances. The most recent campaign launched just a few months ago in Minnesota, where there’s a persistent shortage of skilled workers for high-tech manufacturing.
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