The future of manufacturing is here! Gone are the analog dial and knob systems from long ago. Gone are the human monitors with clipboards in hand recording data and “phoning in” issues. The facilities of the 21st century consist of networked digital monitors continuously recording the state of the machines and production lines.
I was recently invited by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to their Inaugural State of Manufacturing Tour, which kicked off at Emerson in Round Rock. What I saw there was incredibly exciting!
Repairs of the future will consist of humans wearing headgear to provide the technician an augmented reality from a bank of read-outs. Technicians will have the virtual ability to pull up the diagnostics and repair videos that will guide them through the evaluation, repairs and potential replacement steps. Technicians can now monitor actual work via a bank of computer screens, and these technicians may not even be housed within the same facility.
Talk of manufacturing jobs in the last year and how we, as a country, can bring those jobs back abounds. The problem is those manufacturing jobs from 10, 20 and 30 years ago rapidly are becoming obsolete as advances in technology are remaking American production. It is critical that we, as elected leaders, realize that the manufacturing plants of the 70s are never returning to America.
As NAM Board Chair David Farr says, “Technology is actually ‘future-proofing’ jobs and careers. Today, technology largely is the core foundation of the job in manufacturing.”
Manufacturing has become a much more technical and sophisticated process and the workforce required is specialized and highly trained. Manufacturing in the 21st century affords Americans an exciting range of new career options and contributes $2.17 trillion to the U. S. economy annually, employing more than 12 million Americans and supporting more than six million additional jobs indirectly.
In the real and virtual world that I experienced at Emerson, it is very clear to me that education, running the spectrum from our youngest children to adults already in the workforce, is key. San Antonio was one of the first communities in the country to address the “skills-gap” issue through a partnership between the Alamo Colleges, industry and public schools. This coalition founded the Alamo Academies, where students earn community college credits and manufacturing certifications, and they have paid internships even before they graduate from high school. However, these types of programs need greater awareness. According to the Manufacturing Institute in Washington, D.C., only 35 percent of parents say they would encourage their children to pursue careers in manufacturing, despite the advanced skills and high pay that are characteristic of work in today’s advanced manufacturing industry. This is due to a perception of manufacturing from a generation ago but doesn’t represent today’s reality.
To help dispel this misperception, the Manufacturing Institute launched its Dream It. Do It. Program aimed at raising awareness among youth, parents, teachers and stakeholders. Members of this youth program gain access to national support and resources to aid their pro-manufacturing efforts and join a network of industry leaders that implement activities to meet local, regional and statewide workforce needs. Active chapters of Dream It. Do It. operate in areas in Texas like Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, as well as 40 other regions and states across the country, all designed to inspire next-generation workers to pursue manufacturing careers and fill workforce disparities.
The critical shortages in manufacturing occur in mid-skills positions that require postsecondary credentials or training with high-demand occupations, including welding, machining, quality assurance, process technology and industrial maintenance. Reports indicate that over the next decade, nearly three and one-half million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, and two million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap. Educating and retraining our workforce should be this industry’s mantra.
American workers adept at filling these shortages are veterans. The Get Skills to Work Coalition on the Manufacturing Institute’s website is designed to help employers understand the skills veterans possess and create opportunities to improve those skills, as well as encourage them to prioritize veterans as a valued source of manufacturing talent. The website lists over 50 employers as members of this Coalition. Other organizations around the country provide differing levels of outreach and support to veterans to inform, prepare and even train them for work in these industries.
I strongly encourage our manufacturers and veterans to seek each other out to fulfill employment needs for the benefit of both parties. A soldier’s training, discipline and reliability are true assets to a manufacturer.
Another group, women, represent nearly half of the total U.S. workforce, yet they comprise only a quarter of the manufacturing workforce. A study by DeLoitte Development LLC and the Manufacturing Institute cited fewer recruitment programs targeting women as one deterrent. The study also found that women preferred sponsorships and mentorships overall to help them succeed in manufacturing jobs. I laud companies striving not only to attract women, but who continue to focus on the necessary programs, including life-work balance flexibility, to retain and promote them to leadership positions.
Founder and President of Women in Manufacturing Allison Grealis says, "Manufacturing is an engine behind the U.S. economic recovery. But the industry's workforce does not look like the population today. To overcome the challenges our industry faces, we need to continue broadening the workforce by focusing on recruiting more women and equipping them with the skills they need to help American manufacturing thrive."
And let’s not forget another ever-developing facet of manufacturing: clean energy technologies like electric vehicles, LED bulbs and solar panels. Fossil fuels won’t be around forever, and renewable energy leaves a much smaller carbon imprint on our planet. As green energy demands grow, manufacturing in this sector will continue to increase and attract job-seekers to these areas of technology and production. These too are jobs of the future, and they too will depend on specialized skills training.