A majority of Americans see manufacturing as vital to the country's economy, but much fewer are confident about its future. That's according to a new survey from the Brookings Institute.
The survey also found that few respondents would encourage young people to take jobs in the manufacturing sector. Darrell M. West, vice president of Governance Studies at Brookings, says these trends are alarming.
Though Americans generally have little confidence in the manufacturing industry, West thinks this might be due to a lack of understanding. He says that the industry is changing from the “dirty” factory jobs people tend to imagine into a much more high-tech environment.
Mike Coast and Sandy Baruah are on the forefront of this change in our state. Coast is the president of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, and Baruah is the president and chief executive officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber. Both businesses are focused on what they call "Industry 4.0."
Coast describes Industry 4.0 as a shift into a new digital age for manufacturing, where objects and concepts are manipulated digitally, instead of in the physical world. It involves tools like simulation software and augmented reality, and Coast says it is rapidly transforming the manufacturing sector.
He attributes Americans’ low confidence in manufacturing to a lack of understanding, saying, “a lot of people simply don’t know that there are great jobs and great opportunities in manufacturing facilities nowadays.”
These jobs and opportunities, Baruah says, will involve more skill and training, which current workers in the manufacturing industry don't necessarily have. But Baruah says businesses could start retraining workers periodically to keep them current on skills and technology.
“Manufacturing is a very healthy sector, but the work force and the work needs are changing,” Baruah said.