No respect for manufacturing jobs

Lee Teschler

@dw_leeteschler

You would have had to live under a rock for the past year to not hear the political posturing about U.S. manufacturing jobs. The President has promised to bring back. manufacturing jobs. Candidate Clinton had a “Make it in America” plan with effectively the same aim.

The campaign rhetoric might lead you to think that manufacturing jobs are a new focus for LTeschlerpoliticians. But that’s not at all true. Previous administrations have noticed the steady decline in manufacturing employment – about 35% of all U.S. non-farm workers were employed in manufacturing in 1945. By 2010, that figure had dropped to about 9%. (For amusement, one can do a linear regression of this declining jobs-vs.-time relationship to find out when the last manufacturing job might leave the U.S. When we did this analysis, we came up with zero-percent U.S. manufacturing jobs around the year 2033.) So through the years, there has been a lot of governmental hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth about these trends.

For an illustration of what’s transpired inside the bowels of government over manufacturing employment, consider a 2014 report written by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. It is filled with mushy prose and not exactly what you would say is a stirring call to action. Reading through one of its many “recommendations,” one has a hard time getting a sense as to what might occur if the recommended actions were taken. For example, it is hard to see what would actually happen if we established “a national strategy for securing U.S. advantage in emerging manufacturing technologies.” Ditto for providing “coordinated private-sector input on national advanced manufacturing technology research and development priorities.”

However, there is one point in the report that is clear. The President’s advisors suggested launching “a national campaign to change the image of manufacturing.” Finally, a straightforward goal: Not only develop manufacturing jobs, but also convince people they would actually want to take those jobs.

But if you are a bureaucrat, there is a hazard in devising plans that are clear. Someone might measure the results and call you to account. And if remarks made in the popular media are any indication, we’d have to say the President’s Council got a failing grade on rehabilitating the image of manufacturing.

Consider the comments from the head of a Minnesota recruitment firm who said she has trouble finding candidates for manufacturing jobs because “parents … think that manufacturing is dirty and grimy.….They don’t want their kids working in that kind of environment. So, they don’t encourage their kids to go into manufacturing.”

Then there is this from, believe it or not, an HR site: “Nobody wants those crummy Trump jobs. Those jobs suck. Have you ever worked in a factory? Do you have a family member who’s lost a finger or a hand in a mill accident? Don’t we have higher hopes for our talented citizens?”

Finally, there is this comment posted in response to another article on manufacturing employment: “Manufacturing jobs are overrated anyway. Hot, stinky environments with (sic) highly strenuous.”

The piece this writer was responding to was itself a sign of the times. It quoted New Frontier Data, a firm which reports on the cannabis industry, as projecting that marijuana-related jobs will outpace manufacturing jobs in the U.S. by 2020.

Let’s hope our leaders can get their act together to promote U.S. manufacturing. I, for one, would hate to see New Frontier Data’s “heady” prediction come true.

Comments

  1. Lee – Good points about changing the rhetoric around the image of manufacturing. Without that nobody wants to be trained for the type of workers we need and I agree – everyone plays a role in this process! As you point out- waiting on government would be foolish. As for wages, I encourage you to check out recent data from groups like The Manufacturing Institute which highlight the higher salaries, benefits and job security offered by the industry. A real game changer is to actually check out manufacturing as it is currently being done. National Manufacturing Day on the first Friday of October is a great way to help change the image of a manufacturing. First comment most people say when touring our facility is how bright and clean it is compared to their perceptions. The second comment is that they had no awareness of how much technology drives the manufacturing process now.

  2. Richard Feynman, a theoretical physicist wrote a book titled “What Do You Care What Other People Think.” In the context of this article, what do manufacturers care about what the public thinks? The fact is that the public could not live without manufacturing — everything they consume is manufactured but in general, they are not concerned with the why or how of manufacturing, only the price and sadly their expectation of quality. Further, our political leaders don’t have a clue as how to engage with or support the needs of manufacturers so they either control or decontrol our management, our factories, our employees, our profits, the infrastructure we use, or, our ability to do business — domestically or internationally.

    But, when we talk about manufacturing we have to recognize that all manufacturers are not equal; they vary in size and capitalization and we don’t have to worry about the big guys, they can take care of themselves — they can find and train the employees they need or, replace them with automated equipment at almost every level and compete in their marketplace. And, for the most part, their management style is modeled after Ayn Rand’s philosophy — “Profit First”.

    It’s the little guys we have to worry about — dependent on their own resources to compete in a world where just about everything is working against them and neither, our government nor the public cares very much about what happens to us. We can’t all grow and automate, clean-up our plants, and train our workers because we can’t find a skilled work force. And the reality is we don’t have the time or resources to solve our problems much less convince a non-caring government/public that we are a vital part of the economy and that what we do has and does in fact “make America great”. Personally, I don’t give a damn how the public sees us — I’m in manufacturing because I like it, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, I have been able to support and grow a family, and the families of my employees who remain loyal and long-term. What is sad, of course, is that our government, local, state, federal, not only dosen’t have a clue about us, I don’t believe they really care!

  3. Jon Russell says:

    Hildibeast had a plan alright but is was not even similar to trumps, as you said claim and posturing is all she had, trump has already made in roads as well as circumvented some up coming losses. Agree not a big dent but better than anything up till now by far. I also do not think that the government can or should try to alter public perceptions it has done enough of that much to our loss. It has been the governments concerted effort to demonize and chastise business while promoting the largest and most detrimental corporations, and foster the myth that companies / business can even pay taxes, only consumers can pay taxes business can only pass taxes on along with a cost of handling. Of course politicians love platitudes and vague goals, socialism, and other avenues of deception that downgrades hard work, or any real work while pandering the acceptability of living from the imposed charity of the government, as well as the structured slavery that it imposes while building their power and control. The “dirty hands on ” work of manufacturing, service, repair, and maintenance, is disdained at every turn why because it builds a can do self reliance and command of the physical world that surrounds us something that the power hungry politicians do not want at all. Any thing that may lesson our dependence on them and the government is shunned, demonized, and if possible outlawed by any of the political and big corporate masters. Get them to do what shoot themselves in the foot or worse?

  4. Stephen Oberheim says:

    We have to promote manufacturing the way that other countries do and that is by manipulating trade to OUR advantage. Free trade only exists in the US.

  5. Well, this is not brain surgery so why not look at what works elsewhere:
    1. The US leads in agriculture. This is mainly because of policies that support farmers with technology, financing and insurance. So government support can help.
    2. Regulatory Compliance costs in the US are out of control. Note that I said compliance – not the actual regulations. European countries have statutory requirements similar to our own, but they do not operate in a litigious, penalty driven regime. Governments actually partially fund improvements to meet requirements rather than fine companies. As an example, in the US the “soft costs” of permitting, inspections and compliance are over 40% of the cost of a solar panel installation. In Germany they are 10%.
    3. The US not only has one of the highest corporate tax rates, but is one of the few countries that taxes profits made abroad when returned to the US. This not only encourages offshoring and inversions but is unfair in that large companies from GE to Google completely avoid the tax through profit shifting and offshore tax havens. This is remedied by replacing that tax with a Value Added Tax, as is the case with most OCED countries.

  6. William K. says:

    Beard has a good point. But if any value added tax is considered there must be a removal of other taxes. One simple start would be putting a sunset clause on all of those expensive regulations and mandating a “public signature vote” on renewing them. That will certainly assure adequate thinking about the values that each regulation provides.
    And certainly it would be much better if our legislators actually put the good of the general population foremost. But to make that happen we will need to demand that ALL lobby activities be completely publicized. Brutal but needed.

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