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When Did Manufacturing Become a Dirty Word?

When Did Manufacturing Become a Dirty Word?

Company News Wednesday, December 5, 2012: Bishop-Wisecarver Corp

I was recently asked to join a regional panel at the RFI (Request For Information) Workshop on Building the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation at the Beckman Center at UC Irvine. Don Norman, member if the National Academy of Engineering, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, and author of “The Design of Everyday Things” gave one of the welcoming talks at the start of the workshop. One of the stories he shared with the group was particularly troubling and it deeply saddened me.

Norman told us that Northwestern University had a graduate program titled, “Master of Management and Manufacturing”. If you were to search for this program now you would only find it listed as MMM. In fact, finding the word manufacturing on their website is difficult. At MIT they took similar action, changing a joint program with the Sloan Business School now known as LGO (Leaders for Global Operations). In both scenarios the enrollment for these programs INCREASED after the word manufacturing was dropped from the program name. The word manufacturing has such negative connotations that it is avoided in marketing educational programs.

What has happened in our country to make our next generation so turned off by the word manufacturing?

  • Its Dirty. Too many kids and their parents still see manufacturing as a “dirty” job. This is far from true, especially in the state of California. Environmental, health and safety laws have created clean and safe work environments. Our facilities lead the world. The rise of lean and continuous improvement cultures have made many manufacturing facilities almost clean enough to eat off the floor (I say this with the five-second rule in mind).
  • It’s Dumb. Wrong! Manufacturing drives the majority of innovation and R&D investment in our country. Manufactures are leading the way in new technologies and the design and development of products that improve our daily lives and the welfare of people around the world. If you want to be on the cutting edge, then you want a job in manufacturing.
  • It’s Boring. Images of the Henry Ford assembly line still exist in many minds. We have come a long way, baby! In fact, manufacturers like myself now have trouble finding the skilled workforce needed to run the type of state-of-the-art technology machines we now have on our production floors. Making chips fly takes brains and skill.
  • It’s Cheap. Wrong again! Manufacturing jobs on average pay 20K higher than service sector jobs. Manufacturing jobs are the back bone of a strong middle class.
  • It’s Dead. Excuse me? When is the world going to stop consuming? Why do we think manufacturing is a thing of the past when we as a nation are the largest consumer of goods in the world? The face of manufacturing may be changing in the US but it is far from dead. Just look at the DYI craze and the rise of the Maker Faire phenomena. Just thinking about the impact that additive manufacturing will have over the next decade is mind blowing.

I am happy to see that both presidential candidates are at least uttering the “M” word. But in my book, neither has really given manufacturing the credit it deserves for the role it plays in a strong US economy.