Every October, the Association for Manufacturing Technology, AMT, hosts its annual Global Forecasting & Marketing Conference. This year, attendees will converge on Cincinnati for great networking opportunities, innovative manufacturing business strategies and concepts, and inspiring keynote speakers. But the main reason why people go to this event is to hear the economic and market forecasts given by the industry’s top economists. In short, people come because they want to know the future.
So just what is the future of the industry? I can’t speak to the specific economic forecasts until they’ve been released, but in general I believe the future holds much excitement for manufacturing. However, for all the promise of the coming years, it’s hard not to be concerned about the existing — and growing — shortage of skilled workers in the United States.
On Oct. 4, manufacturers around the country will celebrate National Manufacturing Day, opening their doors to students and community members as a way to raise interest in the industry and improve its image among young people and their parents. AMT is a proud sponsor of this nationwide event, and representatives from our Smartforce development team will participate by making visits to AMT members and schools throughout the Dayton, Ohio, area in the Smartforce-branded, one-of-a-kind vehicle called the Rally Fighter.
Why is this endeavor important? For one, Dayton has been named one of the top 10 cities nationally for growth in STEM-related careers, so it’s a great area for a firsthand look at what’s happening in the manufacturing industry. At AMT, the Smartforce initiative is dedicated to raising awareness about STEM education and careers, as a way to address the skills gap in manufacturing. The Rally Fighter is a collaboratively engineered and manufactured car, built by Local Motors, and its eye-catching design is a great way to get people saying, “Tell me more!”
That’s what Manufacturing Day is all about — getting students to want to know more the industry and everything it has to offer. The skills gap isn’t going away and, by many accounts, is only getting worse. Some reports indicate that it could reach crisis levels in the next 15 to 20 years, which puts U.S. manufacturing in a perilous position. While estimates vary widely on the exact number of skilled workers needed, there is no denying that this is a serious issue.
The driver’s side of the Rally Fighter says it all: “Manufacturing Brighter Futures.” It isn’t just the future of manufacturing as we know it that’s at stake; it’s also the future of good-paying jobs with a path for growth that paves the way to a stable middle class. It means a better overall economy, and it ensures that we continue to develop the technology that makes us the most innovative country in the world.
The manufacturing industry is at a real crossroads at this moment in time. A number of factors are converging to make the United States the best country in the world for manufacturers to do business: a flexible workforce, lower energy costs, an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, plus a great education system. Additionally, overseas manufacturing is starting to lose its appeal due to rising labor costs and the complexities of long supply chains.
Foreign direct investment in U.S. manufacturing is happening at an extraordinary pace, and an increasing number of companies are reshoring or expanding their operations here. A recent report from Boston Consulting Group estimated that by 2020, the United States could gain from $70 billion to $115 billion in annual exports that would have come from Japan, China, and several European countries. These gains could add 2.5 million to 5 million U.S. jobs. But we risk not meeting the full potential of this influx if we don’t have enough skilled workers.
It’s time for all of us in manufacturing to pull together in showing the larger world what this industry has to offer — not just for great careers, but also for our economy and a brighter future. While Manufacturing Day is a great beginning, it’s important for us to make sure we’re carrying the message all year long.
Doug Woods is president of AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology. Based in McLean, Va., AMT represents and promotes U.S.-based manufacturing technology and its members – those who design, build, sell, and service the continuously evolving technology that lies at the heart of manufacturing. For more, visit AMT’s website at www.amtonline.org.