Industry Market Trends

Americans Value Manufacturing But See Problems Ahead

Nov 08, 2012

Most Americans consider the U.S. manufacturing sector as one of the strongest contributors to economic health and stability, but many believe the nation's policymakers and educational institutions are failing to provide the proper support needed to keep the industry growing.

According to a new study from Deloitte, Americans overwhelmingly consider manufacturing essential to a strong economy and strong United States, but feel that much more needs to be done for the industry to reach its full potential, including improving how schools prepare people for careers in manufacturing and getting elected officials to provide better support for manufacturers.

Although Americans cite manufacturing as the top business they'd want in their area for economic stability, the study found that a mere 43 percent of respondents think a manufacturing career is as secure as a career in another industry, such as communications, finance or health care.

Part of America's pessimism about the security of a manufacturing career stems from the fact that 80 percent of the survey respondents say manufacturing jobs are among the first to go overseas via outsourcing. In addition, respondents believe government needs to do more to help U.S. manufacturing.

The study, "Leadership Wanted: U.S. Public Opinions on Manufacturing," polled a representative sample of 1,000 people and is in its fourth year.

The findings indicate Americans are in a pessimistic mood overall. The majority, 59 percent, say the economy has "not improved or gotten better" in recent years, and they think the manufacturing sector is really down: "only 16 percent of Americans feel [manufacturing] is likely to improve in the next 12 months," whereas 23 percent think it will actually get worse.

The survey was taken before the presidential election, but as far as Americans are concerned, the problem of governmental support transcends partisan politics. Only 35 percent of survey respondents agreed with the statement that "federal government leaders understand what is needed to grow and strengthen the U.S. economy." State and local officials fared little better.

Significantly, 55 percent of survey respondents agreed that "business leaders understand what is needed to grow and strengthen the U.S. economy."

Politics aside, respondents continue to believe in America's ability to lead the world in manufacturing. Indeed, "78 percent of respondents cited America's technological prowess as one of the key contributors to the nation's competitive advantage," and "75 percent cited America's research and development (R&D) capabilities as a key advantage," according to Craig Giffi, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP and consumer and industrial products industry leader.

Americans genuinely want manufacturing to succeed. When asked what type of facility they'd pick if they could have 1,000 jobs in any industry in their community, "survey respondents picked manufacturing ahead of all other industries."

That might be one reason Americans are frustrated with what they perceive as the educational system's failure to emphasize manufacturing careers. Only 20 percent of survey respondents said they believe schools in their communities encourage students to pursue careers in manufacturing.

As a result, Americans have a low opinion about the quality of manufacturing education and training offered to graduates. Only 49 percent of all respondents agreed that the school system provides exposure to skills required to pursue a career or job in manufacturing, such as science, technology, engineering and math.

This might be why just 35 percent of American parents have encouraged their kids to pursue careers on manufacturing. They may feel that school hasn't adequately prepared students for skilled work, or that they'd be encouraging their kids to enter an industry which could be relocated to China.

It's not that Americans don't think the nation is capable of succeeding in manufacturing. Giffi says the overwhelming majority of survey respondents think the U.S. has the resources needed to compete with any country in manufacturing, including natural resources (73 percent), energy availability (72 percent) and infrastructure (67 percent).

Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute, said that Americans are also impressed with some of the advantages available to U.S. manufacturers, such as the nation's skilled workforce (72 percent), productivity (69 percent) and work ethic (61 percent).

Although Americans strongly believe the U.S. can be competitive in manufacturing on the world market, relatively few see it happening in reality. The survey shows that fewer than half of all Americans see the manufacturing sector as getting weaker, while 32 percent see it staying the same "at best."