Column: Creators wanted in manufacturing

Jay Timmons

Last month, manufacturers in America reached a huge milestone. The men and women who make things in the U.S. now contribute a whopping $2.25 trillion to our economy — a new record high.

We’re growing, and the American people want to see manufacturing in this country grow even stronger. But as the business climate improves thanks to tax reform and regulatory relief, the need to fill jobs grows, meaning there’s an urgent challenge before us: building the modern manufacturing workforce.

Today in America, manufacturers need to fill some 364,000 jobs. By 2025, we’ll need to fill around 3.5 million, according to a study from Deloitte and the National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Institute.

But two million of those jobs could go unfilled because we haven’t upskilled enough workers; we haven’t created enough opportunities for people to acquire the talents and skills to get those jobs. And too few young people are pursuing manufacturing careers. If we don’t address this challenge quickly, people lose out on good jobs, and we will weaken our entire economy.

These are rewarding, hands-on jobs that provide the foundation for solid careers. They are high-tech — requiring engineers, programmers and technicians. They are also diverse — from coders to skilled craftspeople and brand managers. The average modern manufacturing worker earns more than $82,000 annually in pay and benefits, or about 25 percent more than the average worker across all nonfarm industries.

Across America, manufacturers are saying, “We’re hiring. ‘Creators wanted.’” To shine a spotlight on this demand, the NAM is today launching our NAM 2018 State of Manufacturing Tour right here in Michigan, home to around 600,000 manufacturing workers and a state whose influence on manufacturing’s history is as large as its role in determining our future.

Over the next two weeks, we will crisscross the country, talking and listening to manufacturers, educators, families, veterans, people out of work or looking for more work, students and state and community leaders about the future of our workforce. Our launch event will take place at Automation Alley, a nonprofit in Troy focused on accelerating innovation, developing talent and supporting job creation.

Certainly, some people may think “automation” and “job creation” are mutually exclusive. But that’s simply not true. Automation and job creation are not at odds. American workers and American technology are not enemies. Innovation is expanding job opportunities and what American workers can do, making the impossible possible, ensuring that people will always have a place in manufacturing and transforming the manufacturing industry for the better. After all, Oakland County, home of Automation Alley, has added more than 19,000 manufacturing jobs since the Great Recession, representing growth of more than 40 percent.

Today looks different from yesterday. And tomorrow will look different still. How will artificial intelligence further augment the jobs of a talented workforce? How could blockchain revolutionize the supply chain?

We can’t fully answer those questions just yet. But there is no question that to reach our potential and harness these technologies for good will require lifelong learning, technical literacy and ingenuity. It will require all of us to invest in our people.

Innovation is shifting the kind of work that people do. It’s not about “white collar” or “blue collar” anymore. It’s about “new collar” jobs — ones that require training but maybe not a four-year degree. At manufacturing’s core are men and women who have lent their talents to build something bigger than themselves. If you want to change the world, be a manufacturer. Anyone can imagine the future, but it takes a manufacturer to build it.

Jay Timmons is president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.