Manufacturing has an image problem. We hear time and time again that younger workers just don't see manufacturing as "cool." And their parents aren't helping either. In a 2012 survey from The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, out of seven industries, manufacturing ranked fifth as a career choice. Just 35 percent of respondents said they would encourage their children to pursue a career in the industry.
But that may be changing. Martin N. Bailey, Bernard L. Schwartz Chair in Economic Policy Development at the Brookings Institute, and James Manyika, director at the McKinsey Global Institute, think modern manufacturing may in fact be on track to once again be "cool."
The two were invited by Project Syndicate to share their thoughts on the topic in advance of the World Economic Forum, taking place now in Davos, Switzerland.
They write in "Is Manufacturing 'Cool' Again?": "Global manufacturing has the potential to stage a renaissance and once again become a career of choice for the most talented."
The key is that today's manufacturing doesn’t look the same as in the American manufacturing heyday. Automation has reduced the need for line workers; at the same time, the high-tech nature of today's manufacturing environment demands more software programmers, engineers, robotics experts, data analytics specialists and designers.
Bailey and Manyika point to the automotive industry as an example of the shift. The industry is in the midst of a shift from "conventional steel-bodied cars with traditional drive trains to lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles in which electronics are as important as mechanical parts," they write.
So what needs to happen for manufacturing to once again become a choice career? The industry needs to sell itself better to the next generation of workers and to existing workers in the demand fields mentioned above who might not know what today's manufacturing is about. The National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Institute is trying to do just that, according to the organization's president Jennifer McNelly, who was featured in the latest episode of Executive Briefing.