We know that we are living through turbulent times of change especially with regard to the job and skills mix needed for success in the modern workforce.
I want to focus on one industry that has been the locus of incredible disruption, as well as renewal and transformation. This industry sector made America wealthy and powerful enough to help win two world wars and build a strong middle class. Of course, I’m talking about the manufacturing industry.
Since the 1970s, the labor force in the industry has been incredibly disrupted by influences of automation and globalization. The workforce in the manufacturing industry today is about 12.5 million, accounting for about 8 percent of the U.S. workforce. That is a far cry from the 1960s when manufacturing made up about 25 percent of our country’s workforce.
I still remember my Aunt Lottie, a sweet southern woman who worked at a GE plant during the 1960s and 70s, in the Norfolk, Virginia region, as an assembler back in an electronics factory; I think she assembled radios, and the plant she worked at was officially closed in 1985. Of course, as a child who only saw her occasionally, I never really asked about her work, since I was more interested in the amazing pecan pie she baked!
But all the disruptions and plant closures of the last several decades has left the impression that manufacturing in the U.S. is dead or dying. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Even with the shrinkage in the manufacturing workforce, manufacturing in the U.S. still accounts for about 11 percent of our national Gross Domestic Product. It is a vital piece of America’s economic mix, and in the last few years, advanced manufacturing has been making steady gains.
Manufacturing is so much cleaner and quieter than in decades gone by, and manufacturing often requires more specific technical and analytical skills than in the past. That’s why you can visit a massive manufacturing facility and see mostly machines at work with just a few skilled workers operating the plant, somewhat behind the scenes.
Because of the high level of automation, and mathematical and mechanical reasoning needed, employers constantly complain of difficulty in finding skilled machinists and operators.
One of the biggest challenges facing the manufacturing industry is helping young people, as well as the influential adults in their lives (parents, counselors, teachers) understand the modern industry realities and the wonderful career opportunities for them.
Here’s a link to an excellent event in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, which unlocks the manufacturing industry for students and families. It’s an exciting event held in the spring of each year called ManuFest. You can learn more about it at — http://www.manufest.org/
Also, if you want to learn more about manufacturing nationally, the National Association of Manufacturers has created these “Top 20 Facts About Manufacturing.” http://www.nam.org/newsroom/facts-about-manufacturing/
Let’s make sure that our youth know that manufacturing is alive and well, and in dire need of talented, skilled young men and women. Opportunities abound. These careers are good for workers and good for our country too.
One final thought. I am incredibly thankful for the work of our nation’s educators who invest in the lives of our children and youth and young adults every day. I am thankful for the business partners that make learning more relevant and meaningful through their involvement with education. And I am so thankful that we at NC3T can play a part in promoting the linkage of education and business through Career-Connected Learning.
Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday!
Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.