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  • Manufacturing Jobs Are Fine, For Somebody Else

    Posted on September 13th, 2011 Michael 1 comment


    A blogger named Derek Singleton emailed me about his blog post concerning manufacturing, How Manufacturing Can Attract Young Talent Again.  Derek does a great job in identifying how our society has short changed manufacturing as a career choice.  I want to focus on one of Derek points, the disappearance of shop class.  To me this is a great example of the cultural shift away from manufacturing.  Derek correctly points out that we need to work on the public opinion of manufacturing, specifically manufacturing workers, and that adding shop class back into our schools is an important first step.   Unfortunately, this is not an easy task.

    For decades, economics have been talking about the “innovation economy” and the “knowledge worker”.  The level and the fervor of the talk lead many to believe that an “innovation economy”, comprised of “knowledge workers”, was mutually exclusive with an economy containing with robust manufacturing.   Public opinion made it seem that there was no future in manufacturing.  Even without the “mutually exclusive” undertones, public opinion of the “knowledge worker” jobs was that they are the high paying jobs everyone would want.

    Parents, with their child’s best interest at heart, were pushing their school systems for the education needed for the “knowledge worker” jobs.  In the end they wanted computer classes over shop classes.  When I was in high school, I had a job as a glazer at a sunglasses manufacturer.   I did quite well at that company and when it came time to graduate high school, they offered me a fulltime job at a decent salary plus benefits.  To make a long story short, my parents vetoed the idea and told me that had to go to college, which I did.  Although, for several years I worked summers and school breaks at that company I eventually graduated college and got a job in my new field, as a chemist. 

    At the same time as the “knowledge worker” push, school districts where being pushed to measure students by using standardized testing.  Spending limited educational budget money on classes that did not help a school’s rating were being trimmed or even cut completely.  The end result was a public that started to think that the only way to succeed in life was to go to college and get a “knowledge job” while the education system became nothing more than a feeder system for colleges.  If you were not “college material” there were less and less educational options for you.  Less and less workers were taught the skills they needed for manufacturing jobs. 

    The good news is that many manufacturing jobs do not resemble the manufacturing jobs of old.  Rows of workers doing tedious work have been replaced by automated systems.  Gone are the sweatshops of yesteryear with a majority of manufacturing jobs, whether union or not, provided middleclass salaries and benefits.  Providing a better understanding of the current state of the manufacturing worker will do a great deal of good toward attracting more quality workers to manufacturing.

    We are at a crossroad.  Public opinion has recognized that our economy needs to have domestic manufacturing to remain sound, while most people still do not want to work in manufacturing despite its importance.  The current level of union bashing that is going on does not help since many people tie unions with manufacturing.   Maybe, as Derek points out, if we start doing things to help educate people about manufacturing itself we can shift society back on a path for balanced economy, one that supports both manufacturing and “knowledge” jobs.  



    One response to “Manufacturing Jobs Are Fine, For Somebody Else”

    1. Agree that the manufacturing jobs of today (and tomorrow) and different (and thankfully so) than last few decades. I also, think we need to take the discussion to a whole new level where it is comprehensive and inclusive and not just the sound bites.

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