Manufacturing Leadership Council  Viewpoint July 19, 2017

Posted By Jeff Moad, July 17, 2017 at 1:00 PM, in Category: Next-Generation Leadership and the Changing Workforce

The good news: Americans continue to believe that the health of the manufacturing industry is vitally important to the health of the country’s economy. And, increasingly, Americans believe that manufacturing jobs of the future will require high tech skills and innovation and will be clean and safe.

The bad news: The vast majority of Americans still wouldn’t encourage their children to pursue manufacturing careers, and most don’t believe that manufacturing jobs today are interesting, rewarding, clean, safe, stable, and secure.

These are some of the results of the latest installment in a multi-year research project, sponsored by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, exploring public perceptions of the manufacturing industry and manufacturing careers. Those perceptions, the study notes, are important because they will be among the factors determining the size and quality of the future U.S. manufacturing workforce.

The increasingly positive public view of manufacturing’s future, coupled with lingering negative views of manufacturing careers suggests that the public perception of the manufacturing industry is at an inflection point, the study’s authors say.

“For US manufacturers to succeed in the long term, they will likely need to first work toward improving the perception of their companies, as well as the overall industry, and make manufacturing a preferred destination for the world’s top talent,” says the study, which was based on a survey of 100,000 respondents across 50 U.S. states.

More than eighty percent of survey respondents said they see manufacturing as vital to maintaining the economic prosperity of the U.S. Moreover, 55% of those responding to the 2017 survey said U.S. manufacturing can compete globally, up from 49% who said so in 2014.

And Americans increasingly view manufacturing as an advanced, high-tech endeavor. Sixty-four percent of those responding to the 2017 survey described manufacturing as high tech, up from 43% who did so in 2014.

Those surveyed also see U.S. manufacturing strengthening and become more high tech in the future. Forty-one percent of 2017 respondents predicted that U.S. manufacturing will grow stronger over the next 12 months compared to 29% who said so in 2014. Only 22% of 2017 respondents predicted that U.S. manufacturing will weaken over the next 12 months.

Those Americans surveyed also said they believe manufacturing jobs in the future will require more technical expertise (88%), will be safer and cleaner (81%), will require less manual labor (77%), and will require more innovation and better problem solving skills (77%).

Still, many Americans retain negative attitudes about the desirability of manufacturing careers today. Only 27% agreed or strongly agreed that they would encourage their children to pursue manufacturing careers. Thirty-three percent said they would not.

Those who said they would steer their children away from manufacturing careers said it was because of concerns about job security (77%), inadequate career paths (70%), and low pay (64%).

These perceptions, the report notes, are at odds with reality. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the average tenure of workers with their current employer in the manufacturing industry is the highest—at 9.1 years—among all private-sector industries.

And statistics compiled by the National Association of Manufacturers suggest that the average manufacturing worker in the United States earns almost $20,000 more, including pay and benefits, compared to the average employee working in other industries.

One potential cause for this perception misalignment, the report says, is that too many students simply aren’t exposed to manufacturing. Only 24% of respondents said they believe their local schools encourage students to pursue manufacturing careers, and only 45% said their schools expose students to science, technology, engineering, and math skills required to pursue a manufacturing career.

Respondents said more work/study and apprenticeship programs as well as manufacturing skills certification and degree programs would help increase interest in manufacturing careers. Hearing young adults in manufacturing talk about their experience would also drive interest among students in manufacturing careers, respondents said.

The study’s authors said individual manufacturers can help improve the perception of the industry and manufacturing careers taking the following actions:

  • Expose students to the realities of and opportunities in manufacturing through events such as Manufacturing Day, this year taking place on Oct. 6;
  • Highlight the benefits of manufacturing careers in terms of qualities that students and parents value most such as benefits, pay, and work/life balance;
  • Invest in apprenticeship, internship, and skills certification programs for prospective employees;
  • Target messaging to groups that have a greater affinity for manufacturing such as parents and those already familiar with the industry;
  • Generate more awareness of the increasingly high-tech nature of manufacturing and manufacturing careers.