Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reports of [manufacturing's] death are greatly exaggerated

The title of this post comes from the speech US Secretary of Commerce, John Bryson, gave on the second day of the Future of Manufacturing Conference held here at MIT on May 8th and 9th.  He was directing Mark Twain's quote famous quote about his death towards the state that US Manufacturing is in today.  While speakers from industry had some worrying reports about finding skilled workers interested in working for them (another story), the secretary had encouraging facts about the role of manufacturing in the US economy.  Here are a few:

Manufacturing makes up over 90% of US patents
Manufacturing makes up over 60% of US exports

That's some serious innovation and economic trade right there.

Besides the report from the US Secretary, there were panel discussions with a mix of industry and academic representatives and there were speeches from people on all sorts of issues.  The agenda from the conference can be found here.

In addition to the panels and speeches in Wong Auditorium here at Sloan, we had a few events in the new Media Lab building at MIT, mainly receptions and poster sessions.  It was nice to speak with people on a more casual basis and also to go to a building where we don't usually have class.

One theme that did consistently come up though the conference was the issue of the image of manufacturing in the mind of the public, the perception of career potential in the industry and how there are fewer people who have the complex technical trade skills to come in and do the high-tech manufacturing jobs needed.  We heard from both management and union members, and many ideas were proposed including:

Need to ensure women and minorities have STEM degrees
Need to staple green cards to immigrants with STEM degrees
Maybe implement an apprenticeship type program

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

To some these may be controversial ideas, but the fact is that things don't seem to be working out as well as hoped if labor policies and employee demographics remain the same.  Perhaps we'll find other solutions or use other initiatives, but change is still necessary for future success.

Though we'll end up in management, that's one of the reasons the LGO program exists - to get exceptional talent working on production and distribution of tangible things - rather than in say finance which is a track many MBAs opt for.  The Sloan School of Management was originally the MIT School of Industrial Management and the pioneering program was endowed by Alfred Sloan, then president of General Motors (hence the name).  Manufacturing and industry is why Sloan was started in the first place!

At MIT, we have a great history in working in companionship with and in service of industry and I'm proud that LGO keeps this partnership strong.

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