This IDC Manufacturing Insights blog contains thoughts and statistics about the manufacturing industry in honor of the recent Manufacturing Day on the October 7th, first Friday in October.
You might have noticed that the first Friday in October was "Manufacturing Day", or "MFG Day" as it's often abbreviated by its co-producers -- The Manufacturing Institute; The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International; The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM); and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The day is an effort to boost the industry's visibility and voice, including attracting a workforce that will help bring the industry forward.
In the spirit of manufacturing day, Kronos sponsored a Harris poll survey of more than 2,000 adults to gauge the public's knowledge and interest in manufacturing, as well as a panel with a current engineering student at MIT, a Northeastern professor, and local representatives from BAE, GE, and Jabil. The panel was led by CIC, an innovation center in the Boston area that not only houses startups but also works to create a community to foster startups' growth.
Increasing interest in manufacturing
Not surprisingly, the Kronos survey indicated that most people don't really know much about manufacturing or opportunities in the industry, but most know that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) based education and careers translate into less college debt and higher paying career prospects. Manufacturers are investing to change that lack of awareness, starting with kids still in school. The Manufacturing Day panelists were great ambassadors for the industry in the K-12 education system. For example, the BAE engineer pointed to the company's work with FIRST Robotics to engage with kids in schools to build robots and compete against teams from other schools. K-12 is a great time to develop interest in and skills for manufacturing and STEM careers in general. Many youth organizations, including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, also support STEM engagement.
But, how do the numbers stack up for employment in the manufacturing industry?
There are about 250,000 manufacturers in the United States, and as of April 2014, only 10% of plants have more than 500 employees. Although numbers vary based on the source or year, there are currently 12 million manufacturing workers in the United States, accounting for 9 percent of the US workforce. On the other hand, census.gov numbers clearly show that employment in manufacturing is not rising with manufacturing receipts, so even as the industry gains strength in the US, it won't translate into significant labor growth in total numbers. That's a simple case of automation and productivity, which we're only going to see more of in the next 20 years.
However, because of a combination of factors – industry growth, retiring workers, and the need for new skills, NAM estimates manufacturers will need to fill nearly 3½ million manufacturing jobs over the next decade of which 2 million may go unfilled. Ah, the skills gap discussion. It's a complex one. I think it's not just about skills, but compensation, culture, and diversity as well. I'll leave those subjects for another day. But I can tell you I believe manufacturers need a workforce that can understand and use the 3rd platform technologies and innovation accelerators because they are dramatically changing the way manufacturers operate.
Figure out how things work and solve problems
Yes, we do need to market the manufacturing industry to help a workforce take their interest in STEM and find opportunities that give them rewarding careers in manufacturing. I think the panelist from GE summed it up best when he answered a question about what it takes to be in manufacturing – you need to enjoy figuring out how things work and solving problems. Well said. For those of us who work in manufacturing or with the manufacturing industry, it's manufacturing day, every day. And that's a good thing.
(Side note: Manufacturing also supports jobs in other sectors, which accounts for the higher 18.5 million in this mfgday.com infographic from NAM, not to mention the fact that there is no consensus on how we define manufacturers, for example does it include workers in the logistics supply chain that aren't directly paid by the manufacturer? See this document for more details on manufacturing. )