This month I celebrate my half-century mark. Of my 50 years on Earth, half have been spent in metalworking manufacturing. Even after 25 years, it continues to be a wonderful ride. Sure this business is difficult. Manufacturing recessions suck—this is my third major one. Seeing too much inertia in recognizing and responding to change is frustrating. But, this business has never, ever been boring.
A colleague asked me the other day if I would recommend a manufacturing career to a young person—or any of my kids. It’s a legitimate question owing to the dismal environment of our field in the last couple of years. In spite of that, I would definitely say yes to a manufacturing career.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about manufacturing it’s that it never stands still. That’s truer today because of how the democratization of technology and global communication are shrinking the planet. Manufacturing has always been migratory. It comes and goes where economic conditions, costs, competency and yes, government policies, provide a competitive edge. The United States has benefited from such migration in its history by becoming a manufacturing juggernaut. Now we’re reeling and dealing with the flip side of manufacturing’s migratory pattern.
I do not believe the demise of U.S-based manufacturing is eminent. What is eminent is a sea change in how we design, make and market the manufactured goods that are so vital to the nation’s economic health. What many manufacturing veterans must deal with is that the youth coming into this vocation are bringing new and very different skills and aspirations.
In some cases there is a clash of methods between those manufacturers who are desperate to try to keep doing what they know and those who are messengers of change. Pure mechanical skills are giving way to creative and dexterous use of the computer. The business of simply making parts is less relevant. To compete, making parts needs to be a skill base from which to build an indispensable and intertwined relationship with customers.
I’m bullish on manufacturing because I believe there is always opportunity in change. Recognizing what’s changing and how to take advantage is the challenge. Taking a virtually worthless raw material and having the unique skills to make it valuable is the reward.
I look forward to my next 25 years in manufacturing and hope to be here to tell the youth of that generation why manufacturing is still cool.