Manufacturing technology: Changing, evolving, advancing

Departments - Editor’s Letter

Manufacturing has grown little since mid-2014. Five million manufacturing jobs have been lost since the start of the 21st century.

February 6, 2017

Elizabeth Engler Modic Editor |

Manufacturing has grown little since mid-2014. Five million manufacturing jobs have been lost since the start of the 21st century. U.S. manufacturing hit a cyclical bottom in June 2009, and a 21% increase in output since then has been accompanied by only a 5% increase in manufacturing employment. February 2010 was the low point in manufacturing employment, with the job count rising 7.2% since then, indicating that employment recovery lags far behind the cyclical norm following past recessions. That’s the news from a June 2016 Congressional Research Services (CRS) report by Marc Levinson, section research manager.

But there really is some good news in manufacturing, especially medical. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), even as overall manufacturing employment fell during the last two decades, the number of workers employed in manufacturing medical equipment and supplies grew 8%, with many positions requiring individuals with advanced degrees. A high school diploma is no longer a ticket to the factory floor. The CRS report states that between 2000 and 2015, the number of manufacturing workers with graduate degrees increased by 32%. Demand for workers with associate degrees in academic fields level rose 17%, as the number of manufacturing workers without degrees beyond high school fell by one-third.

The need is for educated workers trained and ready to work in the automated, technically advanced factories of today. And, as one reader recently responded about my editorial in the Nov/Dec 2016 issue, “As far as I am concerned, we do not have a skill shortage. What we have is a VISION shortage. Right here in the good old USA we have plenty of people. Potential skilled workers to design, build, and service automation equipment.”

However, there’s another part of the manufacturing equation coming into play and that has to do with what counts as manufacturing. Mark Mills, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, states that the size of the manufacturing sector at 12% share of gross domestic product (GDP) is underestimated – that it’s an artifact of how government accounts for business activities, not how businesses operate or what they do. He notes that it’s likely twice as large, stating that if the final assembly of products takes place in a warehouse – part of manufacturing – those employees are counted by BLS as services, contributing to skewed data for the strength and contribution to manufacturing.

Even if data isn’t fully representative of manufacturing’s strengths, what’s clear is the need for companies and workers to have a vision to embrace and make the most of today’s advancements. The materials, technologies, and machines, along with Big Data and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are all playing a role in the changing face of manufacturing. Growth in manufacturing productivity is possible, but it will take vision and investment in workers, automation, and its future.

What is your vision to grown, invest, and stay on the leading edge of manufacturing excellence? Drop me a line at to let me know. ~Elizabeth