Are you angered by “so called” Think Tanks? You should be.

POST DATE Jan 23, 2015

AUTHOR Udo Jahn

I’ve been in manufacturing my entire working life, making widgets for people used in various industries. There are many manufacturers like me out there. We’ve worked hard to become globally competitive, because we have to be competitive in order to survive. In recent years many of us have successfully helped re-shore, or bring manufacturing back from overseas. We’ve made strategic investments and adopted the right business practices to make it happen. It’s been tough but I believe we’ve successfully helped change the tide. Then, much to my chagrin, out come the findings of a Think Tank.

And the findings from this eastern seaboard Think Tank are picked up and published by numerous media channels. The findings state that the United States’ “Manufacturing Renaissance” does not exist—it’s a myth. My body reacts as if I drank 10 expressos in 30 minutes, my body starts to shake and my blood pressure spikes with anger. The sole basis for their conclusion is the fact that only half a million jobs have come back from the 2.5 million that were lost in the great recession. Bad news spreads like wildfire and I quickly spot another article titled, “US Manufacturing Comeback: Nice Story….if Only it Were True”. Now I’m boiling with anger, having difficulty prying myself off the wall.

While I attempt to regain my calm, I think about what a “Think Tank” actually means to me. In my head I see a gallon fish bowl, filled with goldfish, all with their big eyes pressed against the cloudy glass, watching the news channel on TV. They can barely see what’s going on and there’s very little sound coming through the glass. Their view of the world is very limited, just like this Think Tank. How can they take one statistic, employment numbers, and base all their findings on it?

In the early 80’s I remember reading an article from Alvin Toffler stating that the number of people needed to manufacture the goods of tomorrow will decrease. This will happen due to manufacturing changes coming from new equipment, robotics and other improved methods of manufacturing. We see this all around us today. At the time, Toffler didn’t even take into consideration the fact that countries such as China would become mainstream exporters to North America.

It’s because of Asia that North American manufacturers were forced to find ways to increase the per employee output, in order for pricing to be competitive. This evolution resulted in less people needed to produce the same amount of goods as compared to 8 years ago. So let’s assume automation and lean manufacturing over the past eight years resulted in five times the efficiency. If we do the math, half a million jobs (the jobs that returned) multiplied by five times efficiency equals 2.5 million people—the exact same number reported by the Think Tank. It seems clear to me that improvements in efficiency and automation were not factored into the Think Tank’s conclusions in any way, shape or form.

Another factor not taken into consideration is the large skills gap in the market place. We have jobs available for skilled people in manufacturing, but no one qualified to fill them. These jobs are also sitting unfilled and unaccounted for in the Think Tank’s findings. If the right people were available for these positions, the rebound in employment numbers in the manufacturing sector would have been higher than the current half a million.

What really bothers me is that people are going to believe what they read, and they’re going to see the Think Tank’s findings as truth. Just like a calculator, the end result is only as accurate as the numbers you punch in. If you key in the wrong numbers, you’ll get the wrong answer. And in my opinion, that’s exactly what the Think Tank has done.

I believe the “Manufacturing Renaissance” is in full swing and we need more energy and effort spent celebrating the successes and publishing the wins that are happening in manufacturing across North America. When people read negative stories, like those resulting from the Think Tank’s findings, they lose a degree of hope. Instead Think Tank’s need to invest their time and energy in providing manufacturers with accurate research that we can use to further grow and strengthen our competitive advantage. It’s time for the goldfish to hop out of the bowl, talk to manufacturers in the real world, and maybe then they’ll be able to calculate the whole, and true, story.

I’m looking forward to your thoughts and comments.

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