I’m not one to rely solely on statistics to tell the entire story. There are usually intangibles – the human element, seemingly unrelated activity – that fill in the blanks.
We’re seeing a seemingly endless stream of upbeat manufacturing stories lately, that either extol the latest bump in US manufacturing performance or predict an ‘imminent’ boon. But the bottom line in any economy is jobs. Well-paying, stable jobs that nurture and allow for growth and progressive development of talent. And I believe there are two keys that trump all the fluctuating ISM PMI surveys and economic fits & starts in vertical sectors.
It’s all about the jobs, and the people that fill them. And everything else is hooey.
For a more accurate overview of the health of US manufacturing employment, let’s first look at the people.
This past week, Monster – the ginormous Web-based employment site – released the results of a survey of manufacturing workers in the US. It paints a dark picture of the mindset of our industrial workforce and the lack of options they have to advance in their careers.
Among their findings (as published in the WSJ):
- Close to one-half (47%) of manufacturing workers surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with their current job
- Only 34% expressed confidence in actually securing a new position
- Nearly three-quarters (74%) agree that it’s more challenging to find a job than it was a year ago
Also from the survey (see the Infographic from Monster to the right), only 27% feel their employers are willing to offer higher compensation than they were a year ago, while less than half feel their employers provide adequate training to support their current jobs.
So, not only is the confidence of what remains of our industrial base in the tank – these folks also are seeing anemic investment within the companies for which they work.
And if it’s accurate that there aren’t many options for new jobs, that would suggest to me that the lack of talent-directed investment is prevalent across many companies.
I have no doubt that there are many forces at work here. Some people will complain just for the sake of complaining. Often, perceptions are shared among groups – like mob mentality. And certainly, folks often listen to doom & gloom from others and adopt it for themselves: hook, line & sinker.
But these results point to a troubling condition within the ranks. Let’s be overly conservative for a moment, and slash these percentages by a quarter. Would those results then make us feel that we’re making acceptable progress?
Yeah, me neither.
Next, consider the actual number of jobs created within and by US manufacturing. As a benchmark to measure how we’re doing, let’s use President Obama’s pledge to create 1-million manufacturing jobs during his second term (from 1/12 to 1/17).
The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) has taken it on to keep a monthly tracker of our progress to the 1-million jobs goal, along with month-to-month progress. You can visit the AAM site to view the monthly reports; here’s the updated tracker below:
So, how’re we doing? The short answer is, not very well. Through the 1st 7 months of this 48-month journey, US manufacturing has added only 24,000 jobs. This according to the government’s own BLS jobs data via AAM.
That’s 0.24% of goal. Maintaining this rate of job growth will give us a bit over 165,500 jobs at the end of the 48-month stretch.
Despite what you read – about new initiatives, about rising production, about economic green shoots – we have yet to see meaningful growth in manufacturing jobs at any levels worth more than a ‘meh.’
Look, no one wants to see growth and vitality in our manufacturing sector more than I. At this point, politicizing this only creates more barriers. And we don’t need any more barriers than we already have. But what we’re doing clearly ain’t cuttin’ it up to this point. That may change soon, and it’d better – and pretty dramatically, too.
There are other indicators to measure our (in)effectiveness in revitalizing our manufacturing base – the trade deficit comes to mind as a wonderful litmus test for that.
But what we’re hearing from our workers and seeing in the raw numbers can’t be spun.
The health of our job market can only be described by a word familiar to some of us of a certain age, and is completely appropriate:
US manufacturing job creation is in a malaise.