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feature

July/August 2008
Feature

Challenges and Solutions for Manufacturing’s Future

Educating Young People About Opportunities in a Key
Economic Sector

manufacturingFor several years, ASTM International has been working with professors and students at the university level to help students in business programs, as well as various technical and scientific fields of study, understand the value of standardization and of active participation in the standards development process. (For current examples of this work, click here.)

As many students learn from taking advantage of ASTM’s academic outreach programs, a tremendous number of ASTM International standards have been used by the manufacturing sector for decades, some for more than a century. ASTM standards fuel the product development, manufacturing and quality assurance endeavors of the makers of metals, paint, textiles, and construction, pharmaceutical and consumer products — and more.

In the same way that ASTM and other standards developers must proactively encourage the inclusion of standardization in business and technical curricula, advocates for the manufacturing industry find that they need to educate students at younger and younger ages about the career possibilities in manufacturing. Changes in manufacturing and young people’s perception of it as a career choice have brought massive opportunities and challenges to this critical part of the economy.

To help guide students toward a career in manufacturing, the Manufacturing Institute of the National Association of Manufacturers has launched the “Dream It. Do It.” campaign. The campaign’s Web site provides material for parents, educators, and employers and directly addresses the career goals of the young people themselves.

The report that launched the campaign, “Keeping America Competitive: How a Talent Shortage Threatens U.S. Manufacturing,” provides a glimpse into both the exciting changes in manufacturing and the misperceptions and educational gaps that threaten to keep young people from realizing their potential in this increasingly sophisticated sector — a sector whose past, present and future is fueled in part by the standards developed here at ASTM International. Following are excerpts from the report’s executive summary.

A Changing Sector

Global pressures are squeezing U.S. manufacturers as they face brutal competition from around the world. To continue to succeed, U.S. manufacturers must compete less on cost than on product design, productivity, flexibility, quality and responsiveness to customer needs. These competitive mandates put a high premium on the skills, morale and commitment of workers.

Relentless advances in technology have infused every aspect of manufacturing — from design and production to inventory management, delivery and service. Today’s manufacturing jobs are technology jobs, and employees at all levels must have the wide range of skills required to respond to the demands of an increasingly complex environment.

Demographic shifts portend great change ahead. The “Baby Boom generation” of skilled workers will be retired within the next 15 to 20 years. Currently, the only source of new skilled workers is from immigration. The result is a projected need for 10 million new skilled workers by 2020.

A Shortage of Applicants

A study of work force issues in manufacturing was conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers at the onset of the recent recession and published in its “The Skills Gap: Manufacturers Confront Persistent Skills Shortages in an Uncertain Economy” report. The study revealed that more than 80 percent of the surveyed manufacturers reported a “moderate to serious” shortage of qualified job applicants — even though manufacturing was suffering serious layoffs. In sum, what manufacturing is facing is not a lack of employees, but a shortfall of highly qualified employees with specific educational backgrounds and skills.

Misperceptions

Among a geographically, ethnically and socio-economically diverse set of respondents — ranging from students in middle school through college, parents and teachers to policy analysts, public officials, union leaders and manufacturing employees and executives — the sector’s image was found to be heavily loaded with negative connotations and universally tied to an old stereotype of the “assembly line,” as well as perceived to be in a state of decline. …

With near unanimity, respondents across the country saw manufacturing opportunities to be in stark conflict with the characteristics they desire in their careers — and as a result, they do not plan to pursue careers in manufacturing.

A Wealth of Opportunity

The reality of manufacturing is vastly different from its image. Today’s manufacturing company is a major source of high-tech innovation, wealth creation and exciting, varied careers. Manufacturing contributes more than one-quarter of the nation’s total economic output. It grew at an annual rate of 4.6 percent in the 1990s, compared to the economy-wide average of 3.6 percent. In fact, every $1 million in manufacturing sales supports eight jobs in manufacturing and six in other, allied sectors. Manufacturing’s varied jobs and careers averaged $54,000 in total compensation in 2000 — 20 percent higher than the average compensation for all American workers — while 83.7 percent of manufacturing employees receive health benefits from their employers, more than any other sector except government.

The Challenge

The National Association of Manufacturers has committed “to make manufacturing careers a preferred career option by the end of this decade” through an integrated awareness, career-planning and public education campaign. The NAM also will energetically advocate for education, training, taxation, regulation, trade and monetary policies that will enable manufacturing to maintain its position at the core of a productive U.S. economy. The urgent goal is to energize and focus the sector’s many resources to solve its common problem. To that end, the NAM has issued four challenges:

  • To the President of the United States: Declare U.S. manufacturing a national priority.
  • To the United States Congress: Establish “National Manufacturing Day” to recognize this priority.
  • To manufacturers in the United States: Open your plants and facilities to young people, teachers and parents on National Manufacturing Day.
  • To educators in the United States: Bring your students and guidance counselors to a modern manufacturing facility on National Manufacturing Day.

To learn more about the “Dream It. Do It.” campaign, click here. To find information about ASTM’s outreach to students and professors, click here.