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U.S. factories produce about 75 percent of what the country consumes, but the right decisions by both businesses and political leaders could push that to 95 percent, according to researchers at the University of Michigan.
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Wally Hopp and Roman Kapuscinski, co-authors of "Manufacturing's Wake-Up Call," say as much as 40 percent of U.S. manufacturing hangs in the balance and could either stay in this country or go elsewhere in coming years based on policy decisions.
Factors that employers have little influence over, such as the U.S. tax code, the regulatory environment and the country’s relationship with Mexico, will all help determine whether manufacturing continues to rebound or spirals into permanent decline. Worker training and education policy, though, may be even more important according to Hopp.
"If you talk about manufacturing long enough, all roads eventually lead to education," Hopp says. "A huge determinant of how many manufacturing jobs remain in the U.S. will be our ability to create a skilled workforce."
According to the study, finding technically trained production workers, such as machine operators and maintenance specialists, is an issue that looms particularly large. This may be due in part to the automation of many manufacturing processes (see Automation, not Outsourcing, Biggest Drain on Manufacturing Employment). While low-skill level jobs are increasingly being done by machines, companies have an even greater need for the high-skill workers that can program, run and maintain them.
The solution? "To remain globally competitive for manufacturing, U.S. education at all levels must be improved in four fundamental ways," Hopp and Kapuscinski write.