Bring manufacturing back to America! This initiative is an even bolder measure than the GM and Chrysler bailouts. President Obama wants to "spark a renaissance in American manufacturing" with the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP). This partnership is between academia, government and manufacturers, with over $500m in existing federal funds being allocated.
So, what does AMP really mean to those out of work? It aims to boost the U.S.'s manufacturing capabilities through accelerating innovations in robotics, energy-efficient manufacturing processes and specific technologies that enhance national security. This means there will be an intensified focus on R&D to develop new applications for smarter automation and other advanced manufacturing techniques.
Sounds good, doesn't it? But how will companies adopt these sorts of initiatives? An early example is P&G sharing the simulation technologies it jointly developed with Los Alamos National Laboratory with its supply chain partners. The company's aim is to help lessen the cost-of-entry burden for smaller manufacturers to take advantage of this technology.
President Obama's plans intend to increase productivity and innovation in areas like biosciences, nanotechnology and sustainability. But will this really help today's unemployment, or is it more geared to the next-generation workforce? Either way, what skills are required to get America to a level of advanced productivity and innovation?
Skilling the U.S. manufacturing workforce has to be a top priority. In the past 13 years, one-third of U.S. manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Also, an estimated two million manufacturing employees are 55 years of age or older and likely to leave the labor force in the next 10 years.
During the past few years, we've heard this time and again: "Do more with less." Given the choices between smarter automation/robotics and the cost of labor many manufacturers have made, has this mantra actually accelerated the talent decline?
Academia and industry are faced with the difficult task of addressing this old-world-manufacturing talent shortage, while building up the skill sets that the AMP vision requires. Although the prominent participation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and University of California at Berkeley is commendable, will they really develop the hybrid skill sets needed for this next era of productivity? Or, given the high levels of unemployment in the U.S. manufacturing workforce, should other approaches be considered?
One example is the Manufacturing Skills Certification System. This is a collaborative effort between the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and the Manufacturing Institute (the nonprofit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers) for certifications to use in recruitment and hiring of manufacturing workers. Its curriculum is consortium-developed, with inputs from several groups, including manufacturing companies, the Manufacturing Institute, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council.
AMP's collaboration across government, education and the private sector is a positive show of support for U.S. manufacturing, but it doesn't portend a renaissance. Manufacturing policy efforts are still fragmented, and a skills gap is looming. Presently, there's a conundrum that needs to be managed delicately. Next-generation technology and skill requirements must be balanced appropriately to avoid exacerbating the skills shortage in the rush to advance U.S. manufacturing.
Developing and reskilling the current manufacturing workforce is a short-term priority to fill imminent gaps. However, if the U.S. is truly serious about developing a sustainable manufacturing capability and boosting the competitive profile, then nurturing manufacturing skills at the grass-roots level is needed. This means a radical redefinition of educational curriculums to make manufacturing attractive to youth. This is a generation that learns and communicates differently than their parents, and has a higher comfort level with and expectations of technology. Consider the millions of middle-school-age kids who would rather glue themselves to first-person video games, where they can collaborate over the Web with other gamers to solve a problem.
Early approaches that fuse manufacturing and technology in a context for younger generations not yet entering the workforce have emerged. Two years ago, we highlighted how Invensys Operations Management was using 3D gaming technology and virtual reality to create operator training simulation programs for refiners to train new talent. More recently, Siemens launched Plantville, which is its gaming platform that familiarizes the user with technologies, processes and manufacturing concepts. Perhaps it's approaches like these that will ultimately increase the capacity to learn, but also capture the institutional knowledge that's leaving manufacturing facilities at an alarming pace.
We've written about the future of manufacturing productivity under the Manufacturing 2.0 umbrella. In fact, we saw this coming when we first identified the concept in 2007. Success in the next era of technology-enabled productivity is as much a technology evolution as it is a cultural shift. Now that these approaches are finally taking off, we ask, what are your plans to attract the next generation of manufacturing workers? How about to re-skill your current workforces? Are you viewing the decline in available labor as a sign to invest in robotics and smart automation? We'd like to hear your thoughts on making these investments and trade-offs. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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