Manufacturing has the potential to stage a renaissance and once again become a career of choice for the most talented. Exploding demand in developing economies and a wave of innovation in materials, manufacturing processes, and information technology are driving today’s new possibilities for “advanced” manufacturing. Nanotechnologies that make possible new types of microelectronics and medical treatments, 3D printing, and emerging new materials and methods will revolutionize how products are designed and made.
Manufacturing is essential to the U.S. economy because it is the main source of innovation and global competitiveness for the United States. Simply put, manufacturing is the U.S. pipeline for new products and productivity-enhancing processes. While the sector makes up just 12 percent of the economy, manufacturers conduct 69 percent of private sector R&D. And on average, 22 percent of manufacturers introduce new processes to increase productivity compared to just eight percent of nonmanufacturers. This is important because innovation that emerges from America’s manufacturing sector also fuels growth within the service sector because intermediary goods—the machines used by services (e.g. automated self check-out kiosks at grocery stores)—drive service sector productivity.
Perhaps most important, manufacturing is becoming more “democratic,” and thus more appealing to bright young people with an entrepreneurial bent. Not only has design technology become more accessible, but an extensive virtual infrastructure exists that enables small and medium-size companies to outsource design, manufacturing, and logistics.Large and small companies alike are crowd-sourcing ideas online for new products and actual designs. “Maker Spaces”— shared production facilities built around a spirit of open innovation—are proliferating.
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Once upon a time, ambitious young people with a knack for math and science went to work in manufacturing. They designed planes, computers, and spacecraft, figured out how to lay out an assembly line, helped to make new cars faster and airplanes more efficient. They pushed the limits of computer chips, invented new medicines, and new consumer technologies, like tablets and smartphones.
Milwaukee can dramatically benefit from renewed federal and state efforts to develop advanced manufacturing. Wisconsin has the highest concentration of manufacturing employment in the U.S., and the region is home to over 3,530 manufacturing companies that employ 160,000 individuals. Of that number, only 40 in the state are African- American owned according to data from Wisconsin Manufactures & Commerce (WMC). While Milwaukee’s African Americans and other people of color were deeply affected by manufacturing’s downturn, there remains within those communities an appreciation for the opportunities manufacturing offers.
To inspire the pursuit of manufacturing careers by all racial and ethnic groups, there needs to be substantial change in the cultural image of the manufacturing industry. When the National Association of Manufacturers conducted a survey of high-school students in Indianapolis, Indiana the results were alarming: only three percent of students said they were interested in careers in manufacturing.
Outreach to African Americans and other people of color with programs designed and tailored specifically to their educational needs is an imperative for manufacturing and their participation in the industry.
© 2020 Manufacturing Diversity Institute