One of president-elect Trump’s most popular campaign promises was his promise to bring back manufacturing jobs to the U.S. Can it be done?
We’ve seen reshoring going on, and U.S. manufacturing is reaching new heights of productivity, but bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. doesn’t always mean bringing back manufacturing jobs.
How is U.S. manufacturing doing?
The PMI, a top metric for manufacturing, is looking great. Productivity is at a record high.
But manufacturing job growth seems to have leveled off.
Manufacturing vs. jobs
Increasingly, manufacturing is being done by lots of machines and few people. As labor costs rise overseas and automation makes it possible to run factories with new machines and a handful of engineers rather than hordes of unskilled workers, it makes financial sense to bring factories back to the U.S.
However, that doesn’t mean that jobs are coming back to the U.S. The jobs that are being created are often different from the ones that were lost when American companies went overseas, too. Manufacturing used to be the industry that offered good jobs for people who didn’t care to go to college. That may have changed forever… unless apprenticeship programs become much more common.
What about the skills gap?
Manufacturers have been saying for years now that they have jobs to fill, and can’t find skilled workers to fill them. Some plants aren’t even looking for skilled workers any more. Crain’s quotes one Chicago area manufacturer saying, “I’m not even looking for skilled labor anymore. That’s over. I just want people who want to work.”
Rexroth is involved in innovative apprenticeship programs and partnerships with high schools and colleges. More companies have to take these steps, and a pro-manufacturing government will support those efforts.
The current state of manufacturing jobs has less to do with trade deals than with automation, the skills gap, and consumer demand for cheap goods. But Trump may make a difference. Time will tell.