Friday, September 27, 2013

Is Manufacturing Really All That Important?

If the Great Recession taught us anything, it's that sustainable wealth creation and the jobs that come with it don't come from Wall Street, but from the actual creation of goods. We were reminded that our recovery and economic health depend on the middle class, which has historically driven an innovative manufacturing sector. With every job created and innovation introduced by these companies, we're reminded that manufacturing is the engine that drives this economy — and the rest of the world — forward.

That's why we'll join thousands of others to commemorate this year's Manufacturing Day, October 4. The mission of the day is to address common misconceptions about the industry by opening our doors to the public — to show people what manufacturing is and what it isn't.


We can talk about how we contribute to the economy — both here at home and abroad. Manufacturing pumped $1.87 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2012, up from $1.73 trillion the year prior, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). That was 11.9 percent of the GDP, by the way. For every dollar spent in the industry, $1.48 goes to the economy, making it the most tangibly productive economic sector.


We can talk about jobs, how manufacturing sustains about 17.2 million in the U.S. That's one in six private-sector gigs. Some 9 percent of the workforce are employed in manufacturing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We can talk about pay. We can remind the public that the average manufacturing employee in America takes home $77,060 a year with pay and benefits, per the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Compare that to the average across all industries: $60,168. The higher pay makes our nation's manufacturing sector the most productive in the world, NAM says, leading to higher wages and higher quality of life.


We can talk about innovation, and how U.S. manufacturing — which, taken alone, would stand as the 10th largest economy on the planet — is responsible for two-thirds of all private-sector research and development, making it more innovative than any other sector, according to the National Science Foundation.

We can talk about the skilled labor gap, how about 600,000 manufacturing jobs remain vacant across the U.S. We can talk about the need to fill them, but also about some of the barriers. Sure we need more people with the right skills to keep up with the ever-evolving industry, one that's becoming increasingly high tech. But we can also look at the shorter-term causes, like how some companies embattled during the recession cut training budgets and learned to get by with less human capital.

We can talk about the future, most of all. How do we convince the next generation to get educated, pick up the advanced skills they need to staff our companies in the future and come up with brilliant ideas that galvanize manufacturing, that make it such a great field to be part of?

For more information about Manufacturing Day, go to www.mfgday.com.

And remember to tweet #MFG, #CA, and #BWGmfgday, especially on October 4 - Manufacturing Day!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Building a Strong U.S. Economy Through STEM

“STEM”, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has certainly become a buzzword, and like many trendy acronyms, it may become confused or lost potency over a period of time. But if STEM supporters, and industries that require these disciplines (a large majority of U.S. businesses), have anything to do with it, STEM is here to stay.

Of the 1,650,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in 2009–10, the greatest numbers of degrees earned were in the fields of business, social sciences and history, health professions and related programs, and education, according to data published in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Education. The number of engineering degrees rose 12% from 2004-2010, which could indicate that interest in this field is growing. However, we are unclear on what proportion of these graduates are international students migrating to the U.S. to pursue technical education, who return to other locations to work in their foreign economies. Additionally the percentage of students who initially begin college with an engineering major is still dramatically high, hovering at around 40%.


Why, as a society, have we grown to avoid the very fields which uphold our country and help us attain prosperity and economic stability? Can we find fault in our education system, or is there a perception that these fields are dull? Perhaps our dilemma is more culturally rooted, in the notion that our society thrives primarily on the sensationalism evident in our news sources, which hype glamor, social drama, and interpersonal conflict. In fact, it is possible that as a culture we are no longer compelled by data and information, so much as subjective media and opinion-based sources.

Another theory is that we have failed to place an importance on multidisciplinary education and as a result we lack a sufficient means of translating the subjects of engineering and mathematics into practical applications and in terms which many people can understand.

A broader focus on multidisciplinary education is emerging with initiatives such as STEAM -- Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics. And after all, the U.S., and the global economy at large, operates by the articulation of highly technical, specialized information and data. Dr. Pamela McCauley Bush, a Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Central Florida, addresses this very issue on her blog, which addresses focused on the question of “Why Are Engineers Boring?” whereby she explains that while most engineers are very bright, few may be inclined or challenged within our educational system to adopt the common language of the local economy or the business world and that this commonality is oftentimes magnified within by our society.

The most compelling reason is that more than 50% of our sustained economic expansion is contributed by only 5% of U.S. workers employed in fields related to science and engineering, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (Forbes 2012). It is clear that most jobs in the future will require a basic understanding of math and science according to 10-year employment projections by the U.S. Department of Labor. These projections show that 15 out of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for the coming year require significant mathematics or science preparation.

STEM is important to our present, and it is ultimately a huge factor in the outcome of our future.