Total nonfarm employment in the U.S. increased by 157,000 in January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, manufacturing employment has changed little – on net – since July 2012. So if we're in the midst of a manufacturing renaissance, why aren't we seeing those numbers grow more?
The answer may lie in where the renaissance is happening. We're seeing an industry much less reliant on human workers to man the production line, and we’re seeing more automation and technology taking their place.
“Technology is always creating jobs. It’s always destroying jobs. But right now the pace is accelerating," MIT's Erik Brynjolfsson recently told The Conference Board. "It’s faster, we think, than ever before in history. So as a consequence, we are not creating jobs at the same pace that we need to.”
In a sense, we as a country have become our own worst enemy in terms of job creation. We've moved to become more technologically advanced and leaner in our operations, which is great for production and the bottom line. But it’s not necessarily great for the people whose jobs have been replaced.
That doesn't mean there aren't jobs to be had, but as The Conference Board points out, the challenge is creating jobs that only people can perform. Those jobs often require a different skill set than the manufacturing jobs of the past: engineering, programming, robotics and so on. After all, we have yet to create robots that can innovate on their own and direct research & development.
That's where the opportunity lies, not just in creating jobs, but also in getting ahead of the game. As MDM Publisher Tom Gale wrote in December: "For manufacturers and distributors, 2013 will be the year where the drag of the economy is overcome by the lift of innovation properly applied."
Want more on innovation in distribution? Check out the recent MDM Webcast, What Distributor Innovation Looks Like in 2013: Rethinking Your Business Model, featuring Mike Marks of Indian River Consulting.