Those of us in business-to-business media who have had the privilege of covering basic manufacturing industries during the past few decades well know the feeling of being a lone voice in the wilderness when we bemoaned the steady and sure loss of good U.S. manufacturing jobs witnessed during our tenures.
For decades now it has been obvious to many of us that America’s largest export has been its currency through growing imbalances in foreign-trade deficit accounts. However, the nation’s second largest export has been its manufacturing base and the jobs that went with it. The warnings of editors like me about these deficits and job losses have fallen on the blind eyes and deaf ears of those who control the decisions: CEOs driven by some form of corporate greed; government regulators who made the U.S. a less-than-friendly climate in which to conduct business; elected officials who were clueless as to the deleterious long-term effects of manufacturing job exports on our economy; and a multitude of bureaucrats that stood to gain in the transition.
It seems that at some point during the 1970s the U.S. collectively and insidiously decided that manufacturing jobs weren’t that much of an asset. During this decade new regulatory bodies such as the EPA and OSHA came into their own power, sometimes overstepping both their authority and their mandate in imposing regulations that made it increasingly difficult for domestic manufacturers to compete on a global stage. That’s not to say these agencies weren’t needed, but the political and economic dynamics of their authority in their early days were quite burdensome on businesses that ended up leaving this country to manufacture elsewhere. At the time, nobody seemed to care that much if one factory or another shut its doors, but eventually many such operations fell prey to a burdensome operating climate that gave CEOs an excuse to seek lower labor rates internationally.
Fast-forwarding to the present, I am happy to report that some manufacturing jobs are actually trickling back. The repatriation of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and decisions by foreign manufacturers to manufacture here are great indicators that things are improving and that the mistakes of the past are starting to be recognized … and rectified. They speak more reverently to a deeper appreciation of the value of an economy that knows how to make things on the culture, well-being, strength and national security of the manufacturing country.
Against this brief backdrop of manufacturing history, and on the Labor Day on which this piece is being written, I would like to draw attention to Oct. 7 – about the time you will be reading this – to the fifth annual Manufacturing Day, when “thousands of manufacturers will again host students, teachers, parents, job seekers and community leaders at open houses, plant tours and educational sessions to showcase modern manufacturing technology and the cool jobs available. It is a chance for students to see the diverse career options that are innovative, impactful and durable.”
Manufacturing Day (MFG DAY), sponsored by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and the members of its Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), is an opportunity “for manufacturers to highlight their work and their workers and to energize a future pipeline of skilled workers.” An annual event that occurs on the first Friday of October, MFG DAY is an occasion during which manufacturers open their doors to showcase the potential of modern manufacturing and foster interest in manufacturing careers.
There is insufficient space here to give this program the credit it deserves in reawakening the acceptance of manufacturing as a desirable and viable career option. Those of you in a position to do so should perhaps consider becoming a part of MFG DAY next year and lend support to what some of us have known all along – manufacturing is cool.