It is heartening to hear that manufacturing is returning to U.S. shores (see our previous post), but new manufacturing jobs don’t look anything like the assembly line jobs that were slashed from payrolls at the height of the recession. Today’s manufacturing jobs require a new set of skills that depend on a greater knowledge of math, science and computers. Manufacturing has gone high tech. Laid-off and unemployed factory workers can’t expect to jump right back onto assembly lines without additional training. As a recent Time magazine article on the evolution of U.S. manufacturing pointed out:
“Many new manufacturing jobs require at least a two-year tech degree to complement artisan skills such as welding and milling. The bar will only get higher. Some experts believe it won’t be too long before employers expect a four-year degree.”
Manual factory jobs have all but disappeared. Instead of dozens of workers crawling over a noisy assembly line, modern factories are quiet places where machinery outnumbers workers. Highly automated systems are likely to be supervised by a single manager with an engineering degree. The blue collage world is being bleached white. More than half of today’s factory workers have a college education and 1 in 10 boasts a graduate degree, according to Time.
Yet, America’s tendency to lag the world in math and science degrees has many manufacturers concerned about finding qualified American workers, Some corporations, including Honda and Caterpillar, are already working with community colleges to create associate degree programs that will graduate workers with the skills they need to man their manufacturing plants. Successful graduates are guaranteed a job, an inducement that is drawing considerable interest from high school grads with interests in engineering or computer science.
America has a good chance of regaining its stature as a global manufacturing powerhouse if manufacturers play it smart and educators and workers get on board. Since, as Time notes, “Every $1 of manufacturing activity returns $1.48 to the economy“; it’s a goal worth achieving.
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