The Manufacturing Crisis

The poor image of manufacturing during recent years – and still today – may be the most powerful factor driving the skilled workers shortage. Just this summer, the DOL, in a candid overview, stated, “Manufacturing confronts a negative image, characterized by such phrases as “declining,” “dirty,” “low-pay,” etc. Consequently, too few highly skilled workers seriously consider manufacturing career.”

A division of the DOL, Advanced Manufacturing Industry, Employment and Training Administration, also chimed in. “A modern manufacturing facility today bears little resemblance to a traditional factory of decades past,” it said. “Popular perceptions of manufacturing jobs as dark, dangerous and dirty are largely outdated as advanced robotics and other ‘intelligent’ systems become pervasive throughout the manufacturing process.”

Despite this truism, those on the front lines know an image problem remains, “There is an image that manufacturing is a dead-end type of career,” Ronald Bullock of Bison Gear and Engineering recently told the Associated Press. Lou Schorsch, chief executive of Mittal Steel, told The Wall Street Journal, “Despite being intensely high tech and increasingly clean, policy makers still view us as a dirty industry.”

Even from a cultural perspective, manufacturing is not part of the American mindset and makeup, particularly among young people and certainly among high school students and those younger. After the baby boom generation, manufacturing took a back seat to newer information technologies and many people no longer wanted to get their hands dirty. John Sinn of the Center of Applied Technology at Bowling Green University, believes, “Culturally, we have browbeaten manufacturing to such an extent that we don’t have people interested.”

While recalling the knowledge gained while producing and hosting the 97 episodes of “John Ratzenberger’s Made in America” for the Travel Channel, Ratzenberger adds, “Part of the problem is the media and Hollywood often portray manufacturing in a poor light, denigrating anyone who works with their hands.”