WASHINGTON (Sept. 9, 12:15 p.m. ET) — There continues to be an alarming disconnect between the public's view of the importance of manufacturing and their interest in manufacturing jobs.
The third annual survey conducted for the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte LLP found that 79 percent of the 1,000 people polled thought that a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority. An even larger number, between 85-to-86 percent, felt it was important or very important to their standard of living and economic prosperity.
In addition, those surveyed put manufacturing at the top of their list when asked what type of business they would choose to create 1,000 new jobs in their community.
But only one-third of parents said they would encourage their child to go into manufacturing, and manufacturing was dead last on the list of seven industries that 18-to-24-year-olds said they would choose to start their careers.
Manufacturing was second last as a career choice among all Americans, said Emily Stover DeRocco, president of the Manufacturing Institute, which is affiliated with the National Assn. of Manufacturers.
“There is an unfortunate disconnect ... between respondents wanting manufacturing jobs in their community, and [respondents] pursuing those very job opportunities for themselves,” Stover said during a media conference call Sept. 8 to discuss the survey results.
“Americans think manufacturing is critical to the economy and want it in their community ... but they are concerned about the security [of those jobs] and whether it can be a long-term career,” she said. “It came across fairly clear that the major concern among the American public is that manufacturing jobs have and can be moved to other countries.”
Specifically, the survey found that 77 percent of Americans “fear the loss of domestic manufacturing jobs to other nations, contributing to a sense that manufacturing is an unstable long-term career choice,” said the report in its executive summary.
That disinterest in working in manufacturing and fear of manufacturing jobs being moved elsewhere goes back at least 24 years, as those were the same reasons cited by people when Plastics News reporter Mike Verespej researched and wrote articles, as a writer for IndustryWeek, on the topics of “Who Wants a Job in Manufacturing” in 1987 and the “Vanishing Breed of Blue Collar Workers” in 2001.
That wariness of young people toward careers in manufacturing was also evident in a survey conducted 11 years ago in November 2000 by the Manufacturers' Association of South Central Pennsylvania of high-school students in York County — where, at the time, there were more manufacturing jobs than anywhere else in the state.
Of the 335 students surveyed, 300 — or almost 90 percent — said that they would not want to work in a manufacturing setting, describing manufacturing as dirty, boring, and smelly.
And more than one-third — 121 — said that if they were employed in manufacturing and went to their 10th high school reunion that they would feel unsuccessful, and another 93 said they would be embarrassed. A smaller number, 75, said they would feel successful and 58 more said they would feel proud.
The continuing unwillingness of Americans to work in, or pursue careers, in manufacturing, said DeRocco, ultimately, becomes an issue threatens the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.
“As the industry faces major [baby] boomer retirements, a shortage in the supply of new talent will directly impact a company‘s ability to thrive and expand in the global economy,” she said.
The third annual Manufacturing Institute/Deloitte survey also found there is little confidence among Americans in the ability of federal, state, or business leaders to create a competitive advantage for the U.S. in manufacturing.
Less than 30 percent said they had confident in government to create that competitive advantage, and only 43 percent said that they believe that current business leadership has created a competitive advantage for U.S. companies compared to other countries.
Americans “are not confident that policymakers are taking the right approach to support U.S. competitiveness,” said DeRocco, adding that five out of every six people polled agree or strongly agree that the U.S. needs a more strategic approach to develop its manufacturing base.
That is further underscored by the survey's finding that less than one-third think current U.S. policies create a competitive advantage for U.S. business, with the rest saying those policies either have a negative or neutral effect on companies.
As a result, more than half—or 55 percent—of those surveyed believe that manufacturing in the U.S. will weaken over the longer term; only seven percent it is likely to get stronger.
That view, however, may be colored by their pessimism over the economy.
The vast majority—72 percent—do not believe the economy has been improving or is in better shape since 2008, and more than two-thirds, or 67 percent, believe the economy remains weak and could fall back into a recession.
“While Americans' commitment to manufacturing is unwavering, they worry that these efforts may be undermined by the faltering economy and the nation‘s perceived lack of a competitiveness strategy,” added Craig Giffi, vice chairman and consumer & industrial products industry leader for Deloitte.
The report pointed out that manufacturing jobs grew by 1.2 percent in 2010, the first upward climb since 1997, calling that “a step in the right direction.”
But, at the same time, the report said that in addition to the need to change public perceptions about working in manufacturing, a number of things will have to come together to continue to grow manufacturing jobs in the U.S.
“Nurturing and sustaining this delicate growth will require a mix of effective policy decisions, steady supplies of world-class talent, and positive shifts in investment and growth strategies for manufacturing by both business leaders and policy makers,” said the report.