Huff and Puff and Blow that Economy Down…
What is not to like about more US manufacturing? It is important to our economy, to national security and to the individuals needing jobs and purpose. A nation should be able to build the things that it needs. A hollowed out economy that is only exporting services is not a long term play.
But a revolution is not the solution. Shaming companies to come back is also not a simple anecdote. It took us over 20 years to dismantle our manufacturing prowess. We can’t bring it back overnight. Without some planning we will build a house of straw. We will alienate our trading partners. We will bring back jobs that we can’t fill because we don’t have trained workers. We will try to use the same processes and facilities we have always used and the result will be poor quality and expensive product. We will impact our economy because our goods will be more expensive. Finally, retaliation by other countries will slow down the exporting that we do today. The right way to bring back manufacturing is to consider all of the aspects of a strong foundation and to build a house out of brick. What will that entail?
- Focus – What kind of manufacturing is right for this country? Given our higher standard of living we will not find enough workers for low skill tasks. The best products for re-shoring can be manufactured using automation, are high value or are heavy or bulky. Those kinds of products don’t rely on low wage workers and they cost a lot to move around. If the market is here you can eliminate shipping costs by building here. We also should consider where we can bring a competitive advantage. If we have access to materials and other natural resources, design expertise or automation capability we can do a better job than the competition and build product for the US market and also successfully export. Examples of good products for US manufacturing are appliances, vehicles, expensive electronic devices, machinery, robots and construction materials. It also makes sense to build close to home when a product is difficult to build and contains a lot of intellectual property. The interaction between manufacturing and design engineering is critical during a fast ramp and doing that close to home has time to market advantage. Time is money and fast to market protects IP.
- Infrastructure – We need better roads and power and better access to human resource. State government officials in some locations are working on this. Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama are attracting more than their fair share of new manufacturing jobs because they have favorable policies, strengthening infrastructure and active government programs aimed at attracting companies. Each state needs to craft policies to attract the kind of industry that will be beneficial to the population.
- Prepare the Workforce – In a 60 Minutes interview Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, said that one of the reasons that Apple needs to build phones in China is that the US doesn’t have a trained manufacturing labor force. The obstacle is not so great. If we package training with job opportunity at a living wage, the workforce will be available. Apple can not afford much labor content with this model but automation is a way around that roadblock. Increased automation will generate the need for other skills that we currently lack in the US. We need more manufacturing savvy engineers. We have the best higher education system in the world and there are many excellent programs that can meet this need. Those programs train engineers for the whole world. We can harness that momentum for our own workforce through part-time, online or even full time degree or certificate programs that are sponsored by companies in need of talent. This is an investment worth making and where some profit should be directed.
- Government Support – Of course tax reduction is what comes to mind here and perhaps President Trump’s intention to increase the tax burden on companies importing goods will help fund education or infrastructure. But there are other ways our government can have a direct impact on a continuing manufacturing renaissance.
- Training program sponsorship or tax credits
- Increased community college support for practical apprenticeship type programs
- Higher education support in the form of manufacturing and technology research grants
- State or Federally sponsored manufacturing initiatives used to focus funds and research
- Increased vigilance for fair trade
- Logical and sustainable regulations that solve for both competitiveness and the environment.
- Leadership and Vision – When I worked with Canon, I was told that Canon just did not understand our actions. HP was making decisions for our stockholders. We were trying to minimize the tax burden and they felt that taxes were a patriotic duty. Losing jobs to China was a defeat and there was much debate prior to any movement of manufacturing. They believed that they could build the product with higher quality and with more process technology and therefore it would ultimately be less expensive. Perhaps we can’t turn public international companies into patriotic entities but with more visionary leadership and more action that drives innovation and competitiveness right here in the US, companies can find a win for US manufacturing and for stockholders. The win is there. It will take leadership to invest in factories, commit to a plan that isn’t easy to pull off in the short term and then execute with determination.
There is a path to solid manufacturing growth in the US. It isn’t a move back to the 1970’s. We won’t go back to what manufacturing looked like then but neither will the rest of the world. The new era of manufacturing will be lean and automated. It will require an educated workforce and a supportive government. We will need the willpower and the leadership at high levels in government and industry to take a stand and to chart a path to a successful win-win future where the consumer gets a good “Made in the USA” product at a competitive price.
“All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse.” Benjamin Franklin
M: “Bond, I need you back.”
James Bond: “I never left.”
Quantum of Solace
Recent articles written about reshoring manufacturing bemoan the fact that we’ve lost our manufacturing expertise. We don’t have the people or the passion in the USA for a strong manufacturing culture. So, while we might want to bring manufacturing back and it might even make sense to bring it back, we just don’t have a population equipped to do the work. Common wisdom is that it would be too hard to lure people back into manufacturing and without trained engineers, technicians and line workers we would be unable to grow our manufacturing capability in North America. We could never regain our former strength because too much has been lost. Besides the difficulties in ramping up this expertise, there is also the issue of attraction. Who would want to be in manufacturing? Don’t our best and brightest want to be entrepreneurs, venture capitalists or iPhone app programmers? There is no attraction to building products in the USA. We are a service oriented culture.
Malarkey. Hogwash. Nonsense. Balderdash. The potential of more manufacturing in the USA is “James Bond” cool. Who wouldn’t want to be part of the fun?
- Adventure abounds – Building products is an adrenaline rush from start to finish. Partnering with all parts of the company to maximize the product’s value while minimizing the costs starts the adventure. Dealing with the political and environmental influences in a global supply chain while meeting the needs of customers who want it now in their chosen color and size can only be compared to solving James Bond sized problems.
- Intrigue and Mystery – Trying to shorten time to market while hitting the highest quality marks at the lowest cost is a puzzle worthy of the brightest minds. Working cross-functionally with design, marketing and sales to hit a promised delivery date requires social skills and Bond finesse.
- Global Plot – The stage on which this drama unfolds is always international. Even if manufacturing ramps back up in the USA we will work across time zones to get parts delivered and to get product shipped. The world is a Möbius strip.
- Flashing lights and non-stop action – The nature of manufacturing has changed for the better. Automation will increase in importance as labor rates go up around the world. In the USA, we have to use our innovative skills to drive highly productive, less labor intensive manufacturing plants. These will run 24 X 7 and will need skilled workers to design the processes and to keep things running. These will not be monotonous manufacturing plants of old.
- Always get the girl – Given the complexities of relationships, cultural intrigue and the problem solving nature of manufacturing the need for diversity is obvious. We need the best minds and the best combination of ideas to win this global competition. As automation takes over to build products it will be brains, not brawn that will rule. Manufacturing is gender neutral.
- The good guys win – The best and the brightest will design and manufacture products for the world. It will take leaders with a vision for a better paradigm. It will take young engineers who get a kick out of building things. It will take men and women who aren’t afraid to learn about competitive ways to work cross-functionally with the latest technologies. The combination of creative talents will come together to win.
I’ve always loved manufacturing. Even as it has evolved over the years it remains challenging, fun and intriguing. Consider a career in Manufacturing. Talk it up with your friends and neighbors. Encourage your children to move into this area of expertise. Aspire to this great profession. It will only get better in the future. Manufacturing is coming back as the coolest job out there.
James Bond: “Everybody needs a hobby.”
Raoul Silva: “So what’s yours?”
James Bond: “Resurrection”
When I was 20 years old I landed a Cessna 152 on a runway in Pontiac, Michigan. It blew me away. I was by myself in this flying machine and no one but me could get it to the ground safely. I knew what to do because I had practiced with an instructor many times. But actually doing it was a thrill like few others in my life. This wasn’t a requirement for a class. It wasn’t a necessary skill to propel me in my chosen field. It wasn’t even very logical to learn this “flying thing”. It was expensive, time-consuming, and even a little risky. But I love airplanes, always have. So when I had a chance to learn to fly, I didn’t hesitate.
The world in which we live gives us opportunities all of the time to get outside of our comfort zones. The rate of change in our work lives can be overwhelming. Leadership changes, mergers, acquisitions, change in strategy, downsizing, right-sizing and re-engineering….stop the roller coaster, I wanna get off! But this crazy carnival ride provides us with learning opportunities. Our ability to learn and evolve has never been more taxed but this is a good thing if we rev up our brains and get going. I’ve put together some helpful hints for embracing the cycle of learning on and off the job.
- Monitor your level of “stretch” – If you have been in a job for a while you are likely to get comfortable. You know your job. You understand the ins and outs. You know who to call. It is time to change jobs. This doesn’t have to be a new company or really even a whole new job. You can take on a project or work on something that is cross-functional. Moving laterally in a company is often encouraged. Climbing sideways up the “lattice” rather than simply climbing up the ladder is a wise way to build a base of experience. Don’t allow yourself to get bored in a job. If you have to leave a company to keep up the rate of learning – do it. Shame on any company for letting that happen.
- Don’t be afraid to ask why – We should have learned this as kids but grown-ups tend to lose their curiosity. It is ok to explore and not be satisfied with an answer. Even as a manager or even an executive it is impossible to understand it all and your team will appreciate honest questions and a willingness to be taught. This technique of asking why is a valid “lean” principal. Ask the question five times to get to the real root of an issue.
- Lean into the fear – Most of us get butterflies when asked to present in front of an audience. Some of us get nauseous. Some love the rush. Fear of presenting in front of an audience is one of the most common fears out there. But there are other fears in the work place. It is hard to speak up in a large meeting especially when your ideas conflict with others. It is hard to bring up an issue with a boss especially when it is personal or controversial. It is scary to take a job where you are not the expert. Leaning into the fear can be the right thing to do if your quest is positive. It will teach you about your limits and your strengths. You will learn about yourself and you will see how great you are. If you fail…you will learn even more.
- Allow for ambiguity – When you are sorting out a new area and you don’t have a full understanding it is important to let the unknowns rest for a time. This is especially true on a new job. It is easy to be discouraged because you don’t get it but slowly but surely the picture will come into focus. During those times of uncertainty the best questions are asked and the most wisdom is offered. You are fresh to the problem. What is “obvious” to many won’t be to you and that is a good thing. Be confused but be ready to absorb new bits of information to help fill in the missing pieces.
- Intuit – This means “to understand or work out by instinct”. This works most of the time and if you are on a steep learning curve for most of your life you need to hone this skill. Given that people who are learners are used to figuring things out and used to gaining information through their many senses, this probably will come naturally.
- Joy in the process – One of the greatest gifts we have as humans is the ability to take on new information. We are able to continue to form new ideas and perspectives and skills throughout our lives. There is plenty of evidence available that the more we use our brains the healthier they will be. My father who is in his eighties is re-learning calculus. Why? The answer is simply that he appreciates math and enJOYs the process. Go for it Dad!
Flying an airplane, sailing a boat, learning how to program in C, understanding differential equations, tackling software defined networking technology…it is all the same. Stretching the brain cells to comprehend something new can be hard but if you embrace it and make learning a lifestyle not a task for school kids, it will turn into a joyous process.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi
At Stanford’s recent StartX Demo Day eighteen start-up companies presented their great ideas. Of the presenters, only one was a woman. Of the businesses only two were women founded. One of the two is Maykah, founded by three Stanford grad students. They have come up with a simple toy: a buildable dollhouse complete with working circuits. The product, called Roominate, was funded to goal on Kickstarter in five days. These three women were in the minority at this startup day at Stanford but they got my full attention. I am all for “pinking up” technology.
Connecting girls to fun, techie toys is a good way to get them hooked on science at an early age. Perhaps it is as simple as connecting what girls do naturally with the technical natures of those things. My friends and I played with trolls and matchbox cars and created grand villages in the dirt with bridges and roads and houses. (Civil Engineering?) We rescued baby birds and tried to nurse them back to health. (Biology? Medicine?) And I loved to sew and cook because I could visualize something and solve problems. (Mechanical Engineering?) Little did I know that those were signs of technology attraction that would lead me to degrees in engineering and a career to go with it.
The statistics are not going in the right direction folks:
- In 2009, the percentage of undergraduate degrees from engineering schools that went to women was under 18% of the total, a 15-year low, according to the American Society of Engineering Education. It was about 21% in 2002.
- Women are more attracted to engineering disciplines such as biomedical and environmental engineering than computer science because the social aspects are higher. While 44% of environmental science majors and 37% of biomedicine majors were women in 2009, just 10.5% of computer-science graduates from engineering schools were women, according to the American Society of Electrical Engineers. This isn’t a bad thing but can’t all of the engineering disciplines have a social impact? Shouldn’t they?
- In the US, 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees were awarded to women in 2009, down from 37% in 1985.
- In the US only 3.5% of women hold a degree in Engineering or Computer Science. The percent for men is 17.8%. (2009 statistics from Catalyst)
Some are saying that this is an issue of overall lack of good STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) in early years. Others are saying that young women are seeing the lives of their mothers and not wanting to repeat that life of juggling and pressure. I say it is because we have made technology seem too “blue”. Why don’t we talk to girls about the “pink” in technology? Why don’t we describe the creative aspects and the ability to make stuff and change the world? Why don’t we explain the doors that it opens? Why can’t we weave technology into the things that girls and young women do naturally?
Do you like to put stuff together in the kitchen to make the best dessert ever? Do you even care if it turns out since the process was as fun as the outcome? Did you build houses, villages and characters as a young girl? Did you make up stories that went along with your creations? Do you visualize the future? Were you interested in the Curiosity Rover as it landed on Mars? Do you wonder if someday people could go there? Would you love to have the latest phone with all the capabilities that brings? Do your parents ask you to set up the TV to record or play a DVR? Do you love having your friends at your fingertips on Facebook and texting? Can you tolerate math as long as the teacher is good? Are you willing to learn abstract concepts if they can be connected to the real world?
Ahhh, then you are a great candidate for a career in technology.
Let’s consider how we can make technology “girly”. It isn’t all that way but there is a pink underside to it that doesn’t show itself often enough.