And the crystal ball says that U.S. manufacturing is going up/down/sideways...
A quick humorous aside from the desk of ManufactureThis...
No one is more supportive of U.S. manufacturing than we are. And no one wants to see an uptick in manufacturing activity, and the hiring/re-hiring of skilled factory workers, more than we do.
But we find it strangely amusing that, as we scan through each day’s news, we consistently see such a widely divergent array of estimates on whether U.S. manufacturing is actually rising or falling.
Just this morning, for example, we spotted a piece that says U.S. manufacturing technology orders climbed 30% in March. But mere moments later we read an article that said manufacturing growth "slowed last month due to lagging employment numbers and declining inventories."
Well, which is it-- are we improving or declining?
From the vantage point of our DC headquarters, we're busily tracking certain key indicators. One litmus test, for example, is the monthly international U.S. trade deficit. The latest trade figures show the overall U.S. trade deficit falling in March, and even the dreaded China deficit declining slightly. But the trade deficit with Japan inched upward.
And then there's the monthly jobs numbers. Each month, we update our infamous #AAMeter to show how President Obama is faring in his goal of adding one million new manufacturing jobs in his second term. Unfortunately for the president, the U.S. manufacturing sector added zero jobs in April, a fact widely publicized by cable TV news pundits and economic bloggers. In fact, the manufacturing sector has added a mere 39,000 jobs to date in the president's second term, far off the pace of adding roughly 21,841 jobs EVERY MONTH in order to meet the one million mark.
Perhaps the answer is a "mixed bag." Essentially, if U.S. manufacturing does indeed experience a resurgence, it will be in a new, more advanced era. Yes, the U.S. could potentially lead the charge in new and advanced technologies, but the world-leading productivity of U.S. factories might also (ironically) mean an expansion of production without a large, concurrent jump in added employment.
This also means that the manufacturing workers of tomorrow will need far more advanced skills than those needed in the past. Computerized and automated processes like 3-D printing could lead to excitiong new product development, but will require a very different workforce.
So, how do we get there?
Joe Strummer once said that the future is unwritten. True, but Washington would be wise to take some key steps in order to get U.S. industry back on top.
For example, the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) has called for additional educational investment to rebuild our vocational and technical skills programs in an effort to address potential shortages of qualified workers.
But there's more to be done, including new infrastructure investments, revisions to our tax code, stronger domestic procurement policies, and greater enforcement of our trade laws.
Taken together, such steps could profoundly change America's manufacturing scene. But will Washington make the effort?...That's the question now.
Photo of Bethlehem Steel by flickr user Mad House Photography, used following Creative Commons guidelines.
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