U.S. manufacturers have experienced record growth over the past couple years, but certainty on a wide portfolio of issues, from infrastructure to trade, will be critical to keep that growth sustained throughout 2019. For policymakers in Washington, the May jobs reported should make that clear.
According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs data, the U.S. economy created just 75,000 new jobs in May, with a sluggish 3,000 manufacturing jobs created for the month.
“Manufacturing employment has been more sluggish than desired for four straight months, coinciding with weaker demand and production activity and lagging behind the robust pace we experienced last year,” NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray said. “Indeed, manufacturers created 264,000 net new jobs in 2018, the best pace of employment growth in the sector since 1997. Yet, the sector has added only 13,000 employees since February. For those numbers to pick back up, our leaders in Washington must recommit to tackling the issues currently creating uncertainty for businesses and focus on policies aimed at sustaining the vigorous growth the industry saw last year.”
Employment has not been the only indicator that’s lagged behind. Earlier this week, the Institute for Supply Management® said manufacturing activity in May expanded at its slowest pace since October 2016; whereas the competing survey from IHS Markit reflected growth that was the weakest pace in nearly a decade. In addition, manufacturing production has fallen in three of the past four months.
“Manufacturers need certainty,” Moutray said. “Things like ratifying the USMCA, securing a bilateral trade agreement with China, passing a long-term reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank and enacting a bipartisan agreement to update our nation’s infrastructure are immediate steps policymakers can take that would greatly benefit the industry long into the future.”
Another factor holding back manufacturing growth is the looming workforce crisis—a challenge which continues to be the top concern for business leaders, especially in a tight labor market. The number of job openings in the sector has remained highly elevated, averaging about a half million per month over the past 12 months.
“At the end of the day, despite lower levels of industry growth, manufacturers are still creating far more open jobs than workers ready to fill them,” Moutray said. “That’s putting a damper on job creation as well.” Overall, the labor market remains tight, with the unemployment rate remaining 3.6 percent, the lowest since December 1969.
The Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s education and workforce partner, is the leading industry authority on workforce development and recognizes the need to grow the qualified manufacturing workforce and close the skills gap. It has a range of programs and initiatives designed to do just that.
“The future of this industry and our economy at large are both tied to the future of the manufacturing workforce,” said Carolyn Lee, Manufacturing Institute executive director. “It’s just one more reason why we at the Institute work so hard every day to support the manufacturing workforce of today and grow the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow.”
In September 2018, the National Association of Manufacturers acquired the Manufacturing Leadership Council, an association for manufacturing executives that is dedicated to helping the industry transition to the digital era. Nearly one year later, the MLC wraps up its 15th Anniversary Manufacturing Leadership Summit and continues to provide its members with programs and services around digitization.
MLC’s Co-Founder, Vice President and Executive Director David R. Brousell shares the groundbreaking work of the organization and why it matters to manufacturers today.
What is the Manufacturing Leadership Council?
The MLC is designed to help senior manufacturing executives and emerging leaders define and shape a better future for themselves, their organizations and the industry at large by focusing on the intersection of critical business and technology issues that will drive growth today and in the future. We do live events like conferences; we do plant tours that enable members to see firsthand how different companies are implementing the latest digital technologies; and we publish in-depth articles that focus on best practices and cutting-edge ideas on the use of technologies and the leadership requirements of the digital age.
How is leadership changing in the digital age?
It’s changing in some very important ways. There’s a whole new layer of competency that has to be added to the traditional functions of leadership. We call this “digital acumen,” which has to do with understanding the potential of advanced technologies like analytics, artificial intelligence, collaborative robotics, 3D printing and other technologies. It’s not just improving efficiencies, but also offering new business models, ways of doing things and services.
This new era in manufacturing requires leaders to manage organizations that are flatter and more collaborative, with more and more employees having the benefit of information at their fingertips. Managing in prior years was around a top-down structure. That doesn’t cut it in the digital age.
What benefit do companies get from being a part of this group?
The MLC presents the opportunity to be part of a community that is collectively sharing ideas, insights and best practices to as the industry continues its radical transition. The truth is, you can’t do this alone as a company. You can’t make this transition to the digital era by yourself. You need to be with other companies, to learn from them, to learn what’s possible, to see what works and what may not work well in your company and to form that bond. It’s a tremendous learning experience.
What does the future look like for manufacturing—and how does the Manufacturing Leadership Council fit in?
The future looks very, very bright for manufacturing. We’re going to increase efficiency and produce products that satisfy personalized needs—everything from cars to medicine. We’re going to be able to have better quality and create jobs that are fulfilling, exciting and intellectually stimulating. The extent of innovation happening right now in manufacturing is mind-blowing.
But this is not an easy transition. The future offers tremendous opportunities, but only if we make the transition industry-wide. If we’re able to do that, not only will individual companies be more successful globally, but the U.S. manufacturing industry as a whole will continue to lead the world. There’s a lot at stake for manufacturers. That’s why the partnership between the Manufacturing Leadership Council and the NAM is so important.