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Deloitte: American Manufacturing Has a Major Image Problem

America First may be the Trump Administration’s mantra as they work to bring manufacturing back Stateside, but one major problem they’re facing is the public’s not-so-positive perception of manufacturing.

What’s more, the existing manufacturing workforce is aging.

“As the pace of transformation within the manufacturing industry accelerates—the digital and physical worlds converging and much of the skilled workforce retiring—many U.S. manufacturing executives face a set of new and evolving challenges,” according to a report out by Deloitte about how to create positive perceptions in modern manufacturing. “Primary among these challenges is the issue of talent—ranked by global manufacturing executives as the #1 driver of manufacturing competitiveness.”

That poses quite a problem for the sector, and the problem is projected to get bigger. Between 2015 and 2025, the U.S. manufacturing industry will face an expected shortage of two million workers, and three things will bring this about: the availability of a qualified workforce, changing dynamics of required skillsets, and simply how attractive the general public thinks is it to work in manufacturing.

“Gauging Americans’ perspectives on the U.S. manufacturing industry relative to other industries, reveals public perception is perhaps at an inflection point,” Deloitte said.

Eight in 10 Americans think U.S. manufacturing is vital to economic prosperity, but less than five in 10 think manufacturing jobs are “interesting, rewarding, clean, safe, stable and secure.” Less than three in 10 Americans surveyed said they’d be likely to encourage their kids to pursue a career in manufacturing, though they still seem to have an optimistic outlook for the future of the industry. Eighty-eight percent said manufacturing in the future will require high-tech skills, 81 percent said it will be clean and safe and 77 percent said it would be more innovative. Clearly, there is some confusion about how U.S. manufacturing will become all those things if there’s no U.S. workforce to carry it there.

The U.S. manufacturing sector, it seems, is in need of some rebranding.

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For one, there are benefits that need highlighting, like: the highest tenure for workers (9.7 years), generally low employee turnover (2.3%) and the highest average wages across all private-sector industries ($81,289), according to Deloitte.

More than that, Americans think the U.S. needs a more strategic approach to developing the country’s manufacturing base.

“Nearly 7 in 10 Americans surveyed in 2017 believe developing a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority and that the government should provide tax incentives to encourage it,” the report noted.

Considering manufacturing’s impact on the economy, the belief isn’t unfounded.

According to Deloitte, manufacturing contributes 12 percent of U.S. GDP, employs roughly 12 million people and for every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to the economy, compared to just 54 cents for retail and 58 cents for wholesale.

Now it’s just about getting the U.S. population to realize that.

“The current perceptions of manufacturing haven’t kept pace with advances in the industry, leaving a gap between perceptions and reality in terms of critical factors such as job stability, pay and benefits,” Deloitte said.

Doing things like dispelling false impressions of the industry, offering opportunities for hands-on skill development through internships and generating awareness about how vital state-of-the-art advanced technologies are to modern manufacturing, will likely be a big part of positioning the sector for the kind of success in trade the Trump Administration is working toward.