Mark Twain once famously said, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” American manufacturing certainly seems able to make that claim.
After more than a decade of doomsayers touting the rise of Asian manufacturing, or Mexican manufacturing, or whatever location to which offshoring seems to start flowing next, IndustryWeek reported that American manufacturing is growing at its fastest pace in 13 years.1
Reports have been greatly exaggerated indeed.
Economic forecasters always seem to believe that shifts are inherently seismic rather than marginal. Sure, plenty of manufacturing occurs overseas, but as the global demand for goods has expanded, so has the market for manufacturing. Sure, driverless trucks are on the way – once the legal, technological, human-computer interaction and other barriers are solved for – while 200,000 trucks need a driver today.
Certainly, trends like globalization and rapid technological iteration are going to displace some jobs and render some technology obsolete – just as the industrial revolution did – but it’s also going to create a whole new series of opportunities. Labor market projections indicate a growing class of jobs requiring more than a high school diploma, but less than a four year degree.
So what we appear to be looking at isn’t the beginning of the end of American manufacturing or the economy as we know it, but just a next natural evolution. Some jobs go away, but are replaced by a myriad of new ones – new ones that the tenured workers are capable of filling (with a little upskilling). With the next stage of this evolution already upon us, education still matters and American manufacturing is still strong. In this stage, little changes other than the type of education, the duration of the training, and the pay scale of these jobs.
The demise of American manufacturing has been greatly exaggerated. It’s not only on the upswing, but it’s poised to birth a new middle class of skilled Americans.
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