Manufacturing’s Future – Time to Recognize the Truth: It’s About Productivity

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Posted by: briansittley Comments: 0 0 Post Date: June 30, 2015

In our previous post, we noted some truths about manufacturing myths in need of correcting.  In today’s post, we reveal another way to look at the state of U.S. manufacturing today.
An article in a June 3rd Wall Street Journal report (“Unleashing Innovations”) points up a disruptive revolution underway in U.S. manufacturing that, they say, we need to stop fighting and start admitting.  The age-old premise that a high-school education will lead to a high paying manufacturing job is a thing of the past.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 5.7 million manufacturing jobs lost since 2000, only 870,000 have returned.  As “The Boss” once said, “Those jobs are gone boys, and they ain’t comin’ back.”
The truth is this: Manufacturing will be crucial to the U.S. economy in the future “not for its ability to create jobs but for its potential to drive innovation and productivity growth, and for its role in international trade and competitiveness,” according to Martin Baily, the chairman in economic policy development at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Baily says it’s time we stop measuring success by the number of jobs in the sector and start supporting “the technological advancements that are making factories productive, competitive and innovative.”  True, this will result in fewer factory jobs, but that’s already a fait accompli.  The shift to improved technology is already being powered by three key developments.
The first is the Internet of Things, which we’ve spoken here about often.  That’s the interconnectedness of objects and machines with the web, i.e., machine to machine communication.
The second is advanced manufacturing, like 3-D printing, new materials, and advanced digitization of product development and production.
The third is distributed innovation, where ‘crowdsourcing’ is used “to find radical solutions to technical challenges much more quickly and cheaply than traditional in-house R&D.”
These are difficult challenges, not least because they favor innovation over job counts, productivity over politics, and the pursuit of advanced technologies like robots and others noted above.  But failing to do these things could have even worse consequences.  And the fact is, there will be good jobs in manufacturing – even if not as many as in the past – especially for those with big-data, programming and other specialized skills.  If anything, the real challenge will be finding the talent organizations need to surmount these challenges.
As Baily describes it, “It is hard to let go of old ways of thinking, but continuing to chase yesterday’s goals only puts off the inevitable.”  Instead of dragging out the fight, he argues, we need to “focus on speeding up the manufacturing revolution, funding basic science and engineering, and ensuring that tech talent and best practice companies want to product in the United States.”

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