Manufacturing industry suffers image problem, yet critical to U.S. prosperity

Many are unlikely to encourage children to pursue a manufacturing career, yet Americans hold optimistic views for the future of manufacturing.

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The U.S. manufacturing industry suffers from an image problem that undermines its competitiveness, according to a new opinion survey by Deloitte and The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

Last conducted in 2014, the sixth iteration of the survey indicated only 50% of Americans think manufacturing jobs are interesting and less than 30% are likely to encourage their children to pursue a career.

“While a fair number of individuals either wouldn’t encourage children or are neutral, we do see that both parents and those familiar with the industry have a much higher perception than the general public,” said Michelle Rodriguez, manufacturing leader for Deloitte’s Center for Industry Insights. “Those who have worked in the industry or have family and friends who have are nearly twice as likely to encourage children to pursue a career in manufacturing.”

Rodriguez said the survey makes it clear the industry must do more to dispel outdated conceptions of manufacturing and expose the general public to the current state of the industry. That said, she notes the tremendous success of outreach programs like Manufacturing Day, during which thousands of events like open houses and factory tours draw ever-growing attendance.

Deloitte partners with the National Association of Manufacturers and The Manufacturing Institute to poll Manufacturing Day attendees, and 64% of those who attend are more motivated toward a career in the industry. Rodriguez added that 84% are more convinced that manufacturing offers interesting and rewarding careers.

“These are really strong results showing that when manufacturers open their doors and connect with communities it has a real and sizable impact,” she said.

More broadly, manufacturers are engaging universities and exploring other avenues to build interest, and Rodriguez said many companies are launching new and unique ways to engage. She noted the growth of public/private partnerships where two- and four-year educational institutions are partnering with manufacturing companies as well as local and regional economic groups to make sure there are pathways to develop critical skills and identify the most acute needs of the industry.

“The result is an ecosystem to address issues like the huge skills gap facing the U.S. manufacturing industry,” she said. “Increasing attraction and retention of top talent is the number one competitiveness driver moving forward in manufacturing. Companies that shine a spotlight on that are attracting a different kind of talent than they have in the past. We now see them going head to head with Silicon Valley to attract that kind of talent. It’s an exciting time as manufacturing transforms right before our eyes.”

Though there is much work to be done, the survey indicated confidence that manufacturing has a bright future. When comparing current perceptions and forward-looking sentiments, Americans have much higher perceptions for the future, Rodriguez said.

“Since 2014 we’ve seen sizable upticks in the in American perception that manufacturing is high-tech, can compete and will continue to grow,” she said.

Deloitte and NAM offer some pointers to uplift perceptions and attract talent:
● Highlight priorities that matter: Manufacturing holds the highest average wages ($81,289) across all private sector industries and has one of the lowest turnover rates (2.3%).
● Tap into pro-manufacturing demographic groups like females, Gen X and American parents to change perceptions.
● Dispel false perceptions through marketing and public initiatives such as Manufacturing Day.
● Invest in and foster high-interest programs such as internships, apprenticeships and certification programs, as they’re the types of programs American workers find most attractive.

About the Author

Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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