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Making It in America: Manufacturing Industries Coming Home Again

Make no mistake: Manufacturing is still big business in America. By some measures, it is bigger than ever. Exports of U.S.-manufactured goods has quadrupled over the last 25 years.

Reshoring vs. Offshoring in U.S. Manufacturing

Offshoring—when companies hire workers abroad, rather than here in America—is often cited as the main reason for the decline of jobs in US manufacturing; however, a recent study from the Global Supply Chain Benchmark Consortium shows that the effect of globalization on U.S. manufacturing is much more complex. While some manufacturers continue to look for savings on labor in Asia and other parts of the world, there are companies bringing manufacturing jobs back to America –or reshoring.

“Not everybody is reshoring back to the U.S. or to Europe. Not everybody is offshoring again to Asia or to China — South America, Eastern Europe,” said Morris Cohen, professor of operations and information management at The Wharton School and co-author of the 2015 Global Supply Chain Benchmark Study. “Every part of the world is engaged. So, there’s a lot of change but it’s a very complicated picture.”

Still, even as the global supply chains crisscrosses the world, varying from company to company, Manufacturers in the U.S. will need more skilled workers.

The World Wants and Needs American Goods

A wave of opportunity will flow through US manufacturing as companies integrate more advanced technology into the Made in America process. In traditional factories, productivity depended largely on the number of people employed, working on an assembly line or performing similarly routine, standardized tasks.

Today, productivity in manufacturing depends more on advanced technology and the skills of tech-savvy workers who operate them. That is why in the 21st century, we talk about advanced manufacturing as opposed to traditional manufacturing. The big difference between the two is the role of human labor in production compared to the role of technology.

Manufacturers--and jobs for Americans who want to make things--are still here, but the nature of the industry has changed to incorporate more automation, more high technology, and more skilled roles for human labor. We still need makers--but we need makers with different skills than before.

Our Devices Are Smarter - So Are Our Industries

As manufacturing advances, skills increasingly matter--especially technical skills, proficiency working with computers and advanced machinery. Workers are able to do more per person than at any time in history, or even than workers in other countries.

Achieving these kinds of results requires more training. The makers of today--and tomorrow--are working more closely with research and development teams, with engineers and tech developers of the sort who have made Silicon Valley synonymous with “innovation.”

The growth of the Internet of Things, in which everyday objects come equipped with WiFi to record and share all sorts of data, is changing the very nature of devices. These “smart” devices takes people, systems, and teams that are similarly prepared to work in this new, higher-tech environment.

While that does mean that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degrees are in greater demand than ever before, these graduates are often unprepared to do the hands-on work of manufacturing.

Looking for Talent in All the Wrong Places

How we make things has become as complex as the very things we are making. The processes have changed--the assembly line crisscrosses multiple sectors of manufacturing rather than a single factory floor. Parts made in a dozen different countries are shipped out again to be assembled. That means advanced careers require problem-solving skills, technological fluency, as well as a willingness to get hands on with some seriously advanced equipment.

Advanced industries are looking to recruit workers who already have some technical fluency, training on some of the specific roles and challenges that exist in modern factories. Unfortunately, employers often have trouble finding these skilled individuals; this is what is behind the current skills gap.

Thousands of technical skills-based/apprentice-based jobs exist that four-year degree programs are not specifically designed to help students fill. Today’s manufacturers are more like managers, only instead of managing teams, they are managing machines, robotic systems, and computer-guided processes. Shrinking this skills gap requires accessible specialized training – the kind learners can find in an Advanced Manufacturing skills training bootcamp where students have the opportunity to learn the intricacies of a particular role within advanced manufacturing. These specialized, focused courses were created to teach students the skills needed by employers right now on the frontlines of factories and industries across the country.

American manufacturing is alive and well, but it needs a new generation of talent and dedication to maintain its role as the world’s leader.