U.S. Manufacturing's Brave New World

September 24, 2012

After losing six million jobs between 2001 and 2009, the manufacturing sector has reemerged in the face of slow economic growth. While the popular belief is that American manufacturing is on its way out, new data shows that factories are producing 75 percent of what they consume. As manufacturing continues to regain its foothold in the economy, the future of its domestic and export consumption will rely on "advanced manufacturing," says Thomas A. Hemphill, associate professor of strategy, innovation and public policy at the University of Michigan-Flint's School of Management.

Advanced manufacturing is defined by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology as activities that depend on the use and coordination of materials and capabilities enabled by physical and biological sciences, including biotechnology, chemistry and biology.

If policymakers and industry leaders capitalize on advanced manufacturing, there will be dramatic benefits for the manufacturing sector and the overall economy.

  • High-skilled manufacturing employment opportunities have increased up to 40 percent since 1980.
  • However, 5 percent of open jobs could not be filled because companies could not find workers with the right skill set.
  • If people were prepared for advanced manufacturing, there would be an additional 600,000 jobs available to Americans.

One method of providing the industry with workers that have skills in advanced manufacturing would be to provide high schools and colleges with vocational training and guidance on the type of manufacturing jobs that are available. The Manufacturing Institute, for example, is planning to develop certification in aviation, aerospace and bioscience. Additionally, President Obama has announced a national goal to credential 500,000 community college students, with the goal of filling the demand for workers with knowledge in advanced manufacturing.

One method of helping advanced manufacturing grow is through high-impact technology clusters, or geographically concentrated areas with companies, suppliers, providers and university research laboratories. The advantage of this is that companies and workers will have an incentive to remain in the states rather than shift their operations abroad.

For this to be successful, the government must address the issue of intellectual property protection. This would require strong corporate espionage laws with criminal enforcement of such laws to protect the resurging manufacturing sector.

Source: Thomas A. Hemphill, "U.S. Manufacturing's Brave New World," The American, September 14, 2012.

 

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