The economy continues to grow, albeit at a lackluster pace, and the manufacturing sector as in the past is the primary engine of growth. Manufacturing also is producing many new jobs -- 647,000 since 2010. They are not as numerous as the low-skill manufacturing jobs of earlier generations, but they are better jobs that offer greater opportunity and reward and there are many more out there than people think.
The new manufacturing is eroding the traditional barrier between services and manufacturing. A growing number of people working in manufacturing today are performing jobs that could be considered service positions, but actually bridge the gap.
The new manufacturing jobs are significantly different from the rote assembly line work of earlier generations. The new manufacturing is built upon advanced technologies and demands more advanced skills from workers. They must be able to grasp engineering concepts, work with computers, make mathematical calculations and adapt to constant change. A manufacturing worker today must have the equivalent of two years of college, or more.
Not surprisingly, we have serious shortages of critical skills needed in manufacturing which is to be expected in an era of rapid change The National Association of Manufacturers is working with EverFi to support introduction of more sophisticated training materials on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) into K-12 schools. The Manufacturing Institute's Dream It, Do It program is steering many bright young people into manufacturing careers. Likewise, a growing number of firms are developing new apprenticeship programs to prepare young people for promising opportunities in the new manufacturing. And of course rising compensation will play a part in closing the skills gap.I see a rich mother lode of career opportunities emerging in these four key areas:
- Energy -- serving the entire spectrum of our energy boom from natural gas and oil to solar panels and wind turbines. We are becoming energy independent at long last, and it promises to be a rich mother lode of career opportunities
- The automobile industry is growing about 20 percent a year and is more reliant than ever on automation, robots and advanced materials.
- Aerospace and transportation are seeing large job growth, and this field is obviously highly reliant on advanced technologies.
- Medical care has emerged as one of the biggest sectors of our economy. Technical jobs handling new medical devices are providing excellent career opportunities to millions.
This is the wave of the future. Manufacturing has always been the seedbed of innovation and is uniquely qualified to take advantage of the rapid progress in technology. It is only logical that manufacturing will be the driver of economic progress in the years ahead -- and become once again a major source of new jobs, albeit jobs that demand a higher skill set than in earlier years.