How To Create a Sea of Manufacturing Jobs

It’s been a long slide from greatness for US manufacturing.  It’s been downhill since the 70s – a multi-decade slide.  Lately there’s a lot of hype about a manufacturing renaissance in the US – re-shoring, on-shoring, right-shoring.  But the celebration misguided.  A real, sustainable return to greatness will take decades, decades of single-minded focus, coordination, alignment and hard work – industry, government, and academia in it together for the long haul.

To return to greatness, the number of new manufacturing jobs to be created is distressing. 100,000 new manufacturing jobs is paltry. And today there is a severe skills gap.  Today there are unfilled manufacturing jobs because there’s no one to do the work. No one has the skills. With so many without jobs it sad.  No, it’s a shame.  And the manufacturing talent pipeline is dry – priming before filling.  Creating a sea of new manufacturing jobs will be hard, but filling them will be harder.  What can we do?

The first thing to do is make list of all the open manufacturing jobs and categorize them. Sort them by themes: by discipline, skills, experience, tools.  Use the themes to create training programs, train people, and fill the open jobs. (Demonstrate coordinated work of government, industry, and academia.)  Then, using the learning, repeat.  Define themes of open manufacturing jobs, create training programs, train, and fill the jobs.  After doing this several times there will be sufficient knowledge to predict needed skills and proactive training can begin.  This cycle should continue for decades.

Now the tough parts – transcending our short time horizon and finding the money.  Our time horizon is limited to the presidential election cycle – four years, but the manufacturing rebirth will take decades. Our four year time horizon prevents success. There needs to be a guiding force that maintains consistency of purpose – manufacturing resurgence – a consistency of purpose for decades.  And the resurgence cannot require additional money. (There isn’t any.)  So who has a long time horizon and money?

The DoD has both – the long term view (the military is not elected or appointed) and the money.  (They buy a lot of stuff.) Before you call me a war hawk, this is simply a marriage of convenience.  I wish there was, but there is no better option.

The DoD should pull together their biggest contractors (industry) and decree that the stuff they buy will have radically reduced cost signatures and teach them and their sub-tier folks how to get it done.  No cost reduction, no contract.  (There’s no reason military stuff should cost what it does, other than the DoD contractors don’t know how design things cost effectively.) The DoD should educate their contractors how to design products to reduce material cost, assembly time, supply chain complexity, and time to market and demand the suppliers.  Then, demand they demonstrate the learning by designing the next generation stuff.  (We mistakenly limit manufacturing to making, when, in fact, radical improvement is realized when we see manufacturing as designing and making.)

The DoD should increase its applied research at the expense of its basic research.  They should fund applied research that solves real problems that result in reduced cost signatures, reduce total cost of ownership, and improved performance.  Likely, they should fund technologies to improve engineering tools, technologies that make themselves energy independent and new materials.  Once used in production-grade systems, the new technologies will spill into non-DoD world (broad industry application) and create new generation products and a sea of manufacturing jobs.

I think this is approach has a balanced time horizon – fill manufacturing jobs now and do the long term work to create millions of manufacturing jobs in the future.

Yes, the DoD is at the center of the approach. Yes, some have a problem with that.  Yes, it’s a marriage of convenience. Yes, it requires coordination among DoD, industry, and academia.  Yes, that’s almost impossible to imagine. Yes, it requires consistency of purpose over decades. And, yes, it’s the best way I know.

5 Responses to “How To Create a Sea of Manufacturing Jobs”

  • I agree with Mike re the importance of training a much larger and better skilled workforce. I also agree that the renaissance, including reshoring, will take decades. I believe that publicity about the feasibility and successes of reshoring are essential for several reasons: 1. Companies will only hire and train if they believe there is a strong future 2. Community collleges and other training sites will only have programs if they believe there will be demand. 3. Students will only choose to go into skilled manufacturing careers if they believe the demand for their skills will be high and consistent.

  • Phil Sallaway:

    Outstanding article! The military brought us Mil Spec and Quality Standards which at I understand it lead to ISO. I agree that this is a great approach. For insite on how the US Milatary disigns Aircraft like the F-15 an F16 got to to learn firsthand how one person made a huge difference in how these aircraft were designed.

    Also it was good to meet you in person Mike. Take care, Phil Sallaway

  • This kind of problem, and its solution has been faced and worked out once before, and very successfully, to deal with a challenge that was much more severe than the current one. Only then the DoD then was the WD, and the program was called TWI [Training Within Industry]. In its essential elements, the program was very much designed as the hypothetical program described above in the blogpost. It was in fact the “American grandfather” to TPS, Lean and Kaizen and it is credited with the American manufacturing and production miracle of WWII. Although enjoying something of a renaissance recently as a “LEAN” subculture the majority of lean enthusiasts and proponents have little awareness of it. Like its “LEAN” descendant, it is strongly at variance with the conventional wisdom of today’s cost-accounting based management systems. SEE ALSO: Roots of Lean at: and IMPLEMENTING TWI at: Why reinvent the wheel?

  • Elina Parviainen:

    Hi all,
    Thank you Mike for taking this topic up. During last weeks I have searched for books concerning internal logistics from human point of view. What`s that?? Tell me 🙂
    These comments concerning “How to create manufacturing jobs”, show us how much we know and have already. Now we are struggling how to get someone to act in a known way? Several times there was mentioned learning and training.Question was how to get companies invest in trainings and learning during this economics situation?
    I think, after reading books about Lean, adult learning, supervision and process consulting(I study that at the moment),process management, leading etc. That we can use all we have in a new way.We just have to remeber that everything starts from inside the company, not outside. Like Toyota, they take people who are ready to learn the way Toyota works, not people who are ready to work like they are trained outside Toyota (if I have understood right…) To get the learning become as continuous development, there is needed internal coaches, tutors and supervisiors who make people think and study what they do while they work.These coaches etc. need to have good skills and competences and ability to teach, support, facilitate and cause reflection in learners` brains.Ofcourse, the employee need to have the needed competence for the job but the real skills come in that situation and evironment where one works (company, product, process etc. spesific factors). I`m really interested about this type of training by taking into account how adult learning differ from basic studies and learning. There are important things to take into account. Hope this “problem” of missing jobs or needed skills and competences is seen as each companies individual way of working by choosing the most suitable and needed methods, skills and competences into use. It must not become to a question of who does if from outside and how much money it takes because it just doesen`t work (especially in cases where training is just a business for someone). I quess I wrote about this once in some discussion, if so, sorry that I repeat my self 🙂 I just beleave companies will do much better if they create this kind of internal support and coaching system (that actually has been years and years ago in use). This sytem seeks what is available outside and implement the knowledge into use by doing. That`s the way how company can maintain the knowledge in activities and organizations.And what comes to time, “Time is not taken , it`s given” (read also from some of the books). Br:Elina

  • Nick Name:

    The same problem concerns Europe, not all countries but most of them. There are many people without a job but there are as well many opportunities, the problem is that offer and demand are not converging. The loss of working places is considered to be the low salary in different countries (for instance in France 30 €/h in Morocco 4.5). Of course this makes a big difference if one considers to fulfill a function with same product! I think that it could be a challenge for designers to find an other solution for the problem so that the manufacturing cost will be compatible with the higher salary without asking for a proportional rise of prices. Is that not possible ? Shall we not try ? Shall we accept it without fighting ?

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