Here’s a key question on Manufacturing Day: How do we inspire the next generation of workers?

Friday, October 5, 2018 9:33 am EDT


Raj Batra, President, Digital Factory

Today marks an important event for manufacturing: Manufacturing Day. Manufacturers across the country are holding events and opening their doors to show the public what manufacturing is all about. What people will see is a modern, increasingly digital industry that, according to the Wall Street Journal, is now “firing on all cylinders,” with new orders, production and employment improving “sharply.” Manufacturers have impressively added more than 300,000 jobs over the past year.

But I also want to share a troubling statistic we should reflect on today: Even while companies are hiring, the National Association of Manufacturers has reported that there are still nearly half-a-million open manufacturing positions across the country.

Now, part of the hiring challenge is the widely reported skills gap. We can solve that by continuing to view it as a training gap instead.

But still another important question is: How do we inspire people to pursue this pathway at all? How do we bring people into manufacturing who might not be thinking about it as a career option?

Millennials are more interested in other career fields. Few parents are encouraging their children to pursue manufacturing careers.

And that’s why Manufacturing Day is so important – because it’s helping our industry change the narrative and rebrand itself.

In recent years industry leaders have been rightly making the point: “This isn’t your grandfather’s manufacturing plant.” That’s true. But now we need to take it a step further: I think we need to view digitalization, from data to artificial intelligence, not just as a competitive requirement, but as an existential requirement for our industry.

Young people right now see the tech world as the future. Recruiters now need to be able to tell someone who is graduating from college, who is considering an apprenticeship or technical training program, or who is reinventing themselves midstream in their careers: “There isn’t a more exciting platform to apply yourself in the digital economy.”

And I believe there really isn’t.

Think of it this way: If manufacturing fully invests itself in digitalization, the factory floor can represent the very best of the digital world: where the real and virtual worlds converge. Imagine a plant floor worker who not only runs an automation system, but who uses digital tools and artificial intelligence to continuously improve machines. Imagine a data scientist or software engineer who, instead of designing consumer apps and building web pages, gets to leap frog innovation cycles while making real products and contributing to the nation’s infrastructure. Imagine a service technician using data and apps on an electronic device to solve a problem, ordering a replacement part, then going over to a 3D printer to pick it up.

During the first and second industrial revolutions, new methods of production took on a name that must have made U.S. manufacturers proud – “the American system.” U.S. manufacturers have a longstanding reputation for being experimenters and early adopters. They’ve shaped the industry as we know it today.

Now, as an Internet of Things-fueled fourth industrial revolution emerges, a new generation again has a unique opportunity to develop “the system” of the future by successfully merging America’s software and industrial economies into a more powerful digital one.

This generation can take digital manufacturing to the next level. They can solve problems, innovate, and unlock the potential in data, artificial intelligence, and new digital tools.

On this Manufacturing Day, my advice to manufacturing leaders is simple: seize digitalization, and focus on people – on recruiting and training – like never before.

And to anyone passionate about technical skills and the digital world, my advice to you is: don’t overlook the chance to work in manufacturing. Seize this opportunity to influence and strengthen an industry integral to America’s economic might and to the American dream. Your work will be appreciated for generations to come.


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