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What Does Society Think of Manufacturing?

And what manufacturers can do to improve it.


“My interest is in the future, because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.” Charles Kettering, who wrote this, was not only a philosopher, but he was also an electrical engineer and manufacturer. In addition, he had his finger on the pulse of why manufacturing is important: It literally shapes the future.

If manufacturing is to attract the best people, the most proficient technology and the requisite investments it needs to survive, then how the public perceives manufacturing is equally as important.


This is why Deloitte continues to partner with The Manufacturing Institute to conduct multi-year research in order to better understand how the U.S. public perceives manufacturing.


The results of this year’s study—the sixth in eight years—gauges Americans’ perspectives on the U.S. manufacturing industry relative to other industries. The results reveal public perception is perhaps at an inflection point. The vast majority of Americans surveyed (roughly 8 in 10) continue to view U.S. manufacturing as vital to maintaining economic prosperity. But less than 5 in 10 Americans surveyed believe manufacturing jobs are interesting, rewarding, clean, safe, stable, and secure. Also, manufacturing is not the preferred industry to start a career in today, with less than 3 in 10 Americans surveyed likely to encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.


Manufacturing is vital, yet most would not recommend it to their children. This will change.
Manufacturing is vital, yet most would not recommend it to their children. This will change.


Still, when asked what future jobs in manufacturing will look like, Americans surveyed have overwhelmingly optimistic views— future manufacturing jobs will require high-tech skills (88 percent) and will be clean and safe (81 percent), as well as more innovative (77 percent). So, in a nutshell, current perceptions need work, but the future looks bright. Given these findings, manufacturers could definitely benefit from raising current perceptions and tapping into the future vision in order to help attract talent, both young and old, to the industry.


Where the Jobs Are


Deloitte’s latest study defines manufacturing as a foundational industry in the U.S. economy. Employing roughly 12 million people, U.S. manufacturing has the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector, the study says. For every job created in manufacturing, four additional new jobs are created in the broader economy. And for every dollar spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to the economy, compared to $0.58 for wholesale and $0.54 for retail.


Yet 84 percent of manufacturers report a moderate to severe shortage of qualified skilled production workers, engineers and management positions as boomers retire and the industry continues growing. Demand is high, but what will bring in the supply?


Familiarity. More than two-thirds (67%) of respondents said internships, work studies or apprenticeship programs would help increase interest in manufacturing as a career choice to a great extent. Manufacturers do not have to create such opportunities from scratch. Tooling U, the workforce development division of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, offers a number of methodologies for determining workplace needs and how to respond to them. Its proprietary “Accelerate Methodology” starts with identifying specific market conditions, followed by expert design of a complete program, detailed implementation plan and persistent follow-through with evaluation.


After identifying needs, the organization’s Competency Model Framework organizes training issues. It breaks successful performance into a specific set of related knowledge, skills and abilities. Nine functional areas and 60 competency models help identify gaps, define requirements and provide specific guidance for workforce development.


Moreover, Tooling U says the answer to the skilled worker shortage is right in front of us. In a white paper, “Embracing Millennials,” Mark C. Perna, the founder of Tools for Schools, a Cleveland-based consultancy that specializes in career and technical education, says one key phrase sums up what millennials want and expect: “Experience is everything.”


It’s important to note that millennials approach life differently than previous generations. Perna’s research shows this group elevates friends to family status. They also find social interaction more interesting and engaging in a group, something employers should consider when creating and nurturing teams.


Another point to consider is that millennials, unlike previous generations, were raised on technology – always knowing the existence of the Internet, computers and mobile phones. Millennials came of age with the advent of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Most millennials rarely check email, opting to post, direct message, or text.


Increasingly, manufacturing’s future belongs to the connected.
Increasingly, manufacturing’s future belongs to the connected.


This can be a benefit for manufacturers who tap into their ease with technology, whether through integrating approaches like online training or enlisting millennials to help coach older colleagues on technical aspects of the job, which frequently change due to the accelerated pace of technological advancements in automation and digital manufacturing.


In the end, the overall message is this – manufacturing is growing and is facing issues like advanced technology, safety and environmental sustainability head on. Increasing invitations for the public at large to get to know it better will only continue to allow it to grow. The community open house, field trips, factory tours and even the company picnic can all be powerful tools for portraying a strong manufacturing perception to society. Who’s on board to embrace this new image and show the world what modern manufacturing truly is?

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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