Perhaps contrary to popular belief, the United States, in 2022, is at the forefront of experiencing its next manufacturing renaissance.
From chemical makers and metal-benders to aerospace/defense and semiconductor chip manufacturers, a recent Bloomberg editorial reinforces the statement: The manufacturing economy is not only on the upswing, but it is “sizzling.”
The industry has also proven its tenacity. From the seismic shifts experienced during the recession period 10 years ago, to the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, manufacturing has been the bellwether for America’s economic trajectory and emblemized its competitive spirit in the face of adversity.
Amid the continued boons borne of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), U.S. manufacturing continues to evolve, hosting more innovations, developments, and subsequently, open positions today than perhaps ever before. This marked shift, however, has exposed skills gaps and divulged employment deficiencies exacerbated by the “Great Resignation” — a scenario which has been compounded by a rise in demand and wages — and the impetus for a revival of the recently disrupted supply chains.
In this climate, manufacturers remain cautiously optimistic, understanding the ongoing risks, rolling and unexpected disruptions, and fragile operational margins, as well as the pressures of inflation and talent shortages.
Across the nation, both the public and private sectors have been made cognizant of patterns that have emerged, and root causes that have been preliminarily identified. The U.S. now has eyes on the keys to unlocking the manufacturing renaissance suggested.
But there are stumbling blocks. A decreasing population and ongoing retirement of the baby boomer generation are examples of cause for concern. Further, the stigma associated with manufacturing jobs for the current working generation is further widening the chasm.
Additionally, ongoing employment barriers intensified by the continued ripple effects of the global pandemic are causing disruptions to job-seeking processes and hiring practices.
A rapid progression of industrial technology continues; this is in tandem with delayed or obstinate academic and curricular advancements. Limited instructor capacity and reportedly archaic equipment within the education system are keeping new workers from learning and understanding the machinery; in turn, hindering the manufacturing sector from operating with maximum efficiency.
As an integral part of the economy, manufacturers must also continue to defend against national and global disturbances. Manufacturing accounts for over 11% of the country’s GDP, and the nation is compelled to actively compete with fellow global manufacturing titans to maintain its positioning. Smart factory and sustainability initiatives alongside new technologies in the semiconductor chip, electric vehicles (EVs), aerospace/defense, and plastics/polymers spaces are also playing their part in keeping the U.S. competitive in 2022.
The growth of the manufacturing and engineering technology-based industries, though, are still not consistent across the entire country.
There are regionally recognized pockets where manufacturing employers are building, expanding, and commanding highly and uniquely skilled technicians. California, Texas, and Ohio currently employ the most people in the field of manufacturing in America, for example.
States like Maryland and Missouri also show promise. Major efforts are underway with mega-site announcements being made in industrial states like Indiana, Michigan, Kansas, Georgia, and Arkansas. These initiatives, when carried through, create promise and regional, equitable economic realities.
These data, best practices, and forecasts are captured in “The State of the Workforce in Manufacturing: An American Industry Outlook” as presented by Thomas P. Miller & Associates.
The manufacturing industry in the U.S. has been historically and will once again be a powerhouse, which is why we frequently refer to manufacturing as the backbone of America.
Now is the time to play matchmaker within the entire manufacturing workforce ecosystem and greater economic development process. We must act with urgency and agility to solidify relationships among all the stakeholders and accelerate innovations in workforce training, education, exploration, and attraction, further emboldening sustainable, replicable career opportunities in the process.
Leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT), organizations such as Valor Manufacturing Training and 180 Skills provide the kind of online technical education experiences that can help fill the skills gaps. We need organizations like them to upskill incumbent workers and advance recruitment; to fill vacant job positions in days, not weeks or months; to provide platforms that reduce employer costs associated with training and turnover.
The chance to once again use manufacturing to strengthen the workforce and give millions of Americans from all walks of life comfortable, middle to upper-middle-class livelihoods must not be taken for granted.
The ability to make the U.S. the world’s premier economic powerhouse once again rests on our shoulders.
In short, the time is now. It’s time to produce.
Dr. Vicki King-Maple and Steven Gause work at leading economic development firm Thomas P. Miller & Associates (TPMA)