There’s been a lot of talk during the current presidential campaign about the harm to the U.S. economy done by manufacturing jobs being shipped overseas. Actually, that’s an old story, and it needs to be updated. In fact, manufacturing jobs are actually returning to the U.S. They just won’t be the same jobs.
The reshoring trend is being driven several factors: rising labor costs abroad, shorter product cycles, and automation.
From my feature story in the April issue of Automation World:
Advanced technologies are not only spurring companies to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.; they are also changing the face of manufacturing, starting with the workers. “The industry is seeing a shift to a more tech-savvy worker, who possesses capabilities in coding and software development,” Bono says. In other words, new skills will be required for new and retooled manufacturing plants.
Robots are helping to bring manufacturing home. They’re taking over the monotonous factory jobs that work initially shipped abroad, and they are forcing workers to train up.
As Syracuse University supply chain management professor Gary LaPoint elaborates in my article:
Today’s and tomorrow’s factory workers need computer skills to operate and program the machines. They will need skills in how to repair these machines,” LaPoint says. “I see more support jobs coming.” He also anticipates a rising demand for design and 3D printing services to meet the need for more 3D-printed parts.
No one can really predict what the future of manufacturing will look like, but it’s likely to be distributed (i.e., smaller factories pumping out niche products), highly automated, with humans managing machines, and local. In any case, manufacturing is coming home. Someone better tell the presidential candidates.