Manufacturing's future: More science, fewer unskilled hands

Manufacturing worker shortage
Manufacturers like Haberman Machine in Stillwater, Minn., where Mike Beedle is a quality engineer inspector, are having difficulty finding highly skilled workers. Haberman specializes in making precision parts for the oil and gas, semiconductor, defense, aerospace and environmental filtration industries. Beedle was photographed at work Friday, Jan. 13, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"Advanced manufacturing," "3-D printing" and "new industrial revolution" are a few of the terms used lately to describe the way policy makers, businesses and educators are rethinking manufacturing and its role in America.

The Wall Street Journal writes:

"Manufacturing is undergoing a change that is every bit as significant as the introduction of interchangeable parts or the production line, maybe even more so," says Michael Idelchik, who heads up advanced technologies at GE's global research lab.

Despite all the excitement around a comeback in American manufacturing, that manufacturing will look different from the traditional factory-based work.

The new manufacturing offers huge opportunities — if workers can adapt to the changes and acquire the needed skills. That's been a real challenge here and around the country.

And while science is putting manufacturing on the cusp of a new industrial revolution, there's increasing worry that the advances will leave unskilled workers behind.

Minnesota's a good example. Manufacturing produces more value than any other industry sector. Yet the number of people employed in manufacturing has plummeted since the late 1990s and took a deep hit in the Great Recession.

Can American manufacturing reinvent itself in ways that generate wealth and innovation — and reliable employment for workers of all skills?

The Daily Circuit talks it through with Mark Muro, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Dave Dornfeld, director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability at the University of California Berkeley.


Jobs Alone Do Not Explain the Importance of Manufacturing
"The number of jobs within manufacturing is important, but taken by themselves employment figures miss the real reason manufacturing is an American imperative. U.S. quality of life, the ultimate benchmark of the direction of the economy, is contingent upon the competitiveness of our traded sector and the speed at which innovative products and processes reach the market." (Brookings Institution)

Manufacturing: Searching for a skilled set
"While Minnesota still excels at producing high-quality parts and products, it flounders at producing workers with up-to-date technical skills. Increasingly manufacturers in the state struggle to find applicants qualified to work in their rapidly changing industry. To fight back, they're partnering with educators to boost training opportunities and change perceptions of manufacturing work." (Minnesota Business)

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