Manufacturing Day 2018 worth celebrating as U.S. manufacturing expands

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October 04, 2018

Young workerA just-released survey by Leading2Lean shows that a majority of Americans believe the American manufacturing sector is failing. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Leading2Lean Manufacturing Index survey found that 70% of people believe the American manufacturing industry is in decline and 58% of people believe the number of manufacturing jobs in America is declining. Of those who believe the industry is in decline, 71% cited jobs being outsourced to countries outside the U.S. as the top reason for this decline.

In reality, manufacturing is growing at such a fast rate that over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled and an estimated 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled, according to Leading2Lean, a company that provides production, maintenance and product quality solutions for manufacturers with its Lean Execution System software CloudDISPATCH.

“This survey has brought to light the general public’s misconceptions about the current state of the manufacturing industry,” said Keith Barr, CEO and president of Leading2Lean. “It seems that the majority of Americans hold outdated assumptions about the industry, when the present-day truth is that American manufacturing is thriving.”

So why is there such a large perception gap? It seems there are a number of reasons—most having nothing to do with reality.

Leading2Lean notes that “political rancor and grandstanding” is a big one. As I see it, many Americans are so deeply divided by political party that those on one side refuse to see the truly amazing uptick in American manufacturing, spurred by trade negotiations and the drive to bring manufacturing jobs back home. Take the new trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico—which is not a NAFTA re-do but a whole new agreement, as President Trump noted recently—that could help level the playing field for many manufacturing companies.

Manufacturers need skilled workers, so many of them are starting their own apprenticeship programs and educational classes to help recruit, train and retain younger workers to replace the aging Baby Boomer population. In addition, many of the jobs in today’s plastics manufacturing plants are high-tech jobs.

“Today’s manufacturing jobs are dynamic, require the ability to work with technology, and the ability to problem-solve complex issues,” Barr said. “Systems have even started making use of gamification concepts, which are increasing motivation and engendering positive behaviors, in particular for Millennials and Generation Z workers. And most importantly, these are high-wage jobs.”

Take my recent article on Wilbert Plastic Services’ Wilbert U, which is using gamification to make the learning activities more engaging by implementing a competitive factor where the employees can earn points as they complete the courses.

GW Plastics has for a number of years invested heavily in its training and education programs. The Manufacturing Technology Leadership Program (MTLP) was founded in 2012 to address the skilled labor shortage. In partnership with Vermont Technical College, GW Plastics offers this four-year program to talented associates to support their career aspirations and the company’s technical needs.

Leading2Lean’s survey also showed that respondents believe manufacturing jobs are poorly compensated and prone to monotonous, repetitive work. That is in large part, I believe, because very few people know what the inside of a modern manufacturing plant looks like or what types or jobs people are performing. They don’t understand that most of today’s “monotonous, repetitive work” is being done by robots, not people.

Manufacturing’s image has long been a problem, and Leading2Lean points out that news media accounts of “vacant, rusting buildings all contribute to a belief that manufacturing  has left U.S. shores.”

We’ve all seen those photos, and they paint a misleading picture. Modern manufacturing is alive and well, and thriving thanks to many recent changes such as tax reform, jobs programs and a belief that American manufacturing is returning to greatness. But many Americans aren’t getting the message.

In fact, the survey found that only 55% of respondents agreed that manufacturing offers fulfilling careers, and only 45% of respondents agreed that manufacturing jobs are an attractive option to younger workers and the next generation of workers.

“We hear of high school graduates regularly pursuing popular and well-paying careers in graphic design or medical technology, while similarly high-paying and fulfilling careers in manufacturing get left unfilled because of negative assumptions about the industry,” Barr said.

Barr offers some startling statistics: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for production and non-supervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls is $44,595.20 ($21.44 per hour) as of July 2018. This is nearly three times the current federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour).

On top of competitive salaries, manufacturing workers are also commonly provided with higher levels of benefits, such as paid leave, supplemental pay and insurance, compared with other sectors.

“Our goal is to educate the public about what’s really happening on the floors of American manufacturing plants,” Barr said. “We believe that as people better understand the opportunities and growth in manufacturing, more will pursue careers in this industry.”

On Friday, October 5, Manufacturing Day 2018, every manufacturer has an opportunity to showcase what the modern manufacturing plant has to offer. Advertise your company, and invite students and their parents into your plant and give them a tour. Show them the numbers and the terrific career opportunities that exist in today’s manufacturing world.

More importantly, call your local news stations and invite them into your plant to film and interview employees. We need to improve our image to keep manufacturing thriving in America.

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