Future of Work

Why we all need manufacturing to thrive

Jennifer McNelly
Executive Director, Manufacturing Institute
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Future of Work

Manufacturing is a vehicle to grow and sustain a higher standard of living for global communities and individual families. From increased GDP and lower unemployment to a better quality of life, manufacturing can be the answer for a multitude of complex issues. As Chair of the Global Agenda Council for the Future of Manufacturing, I am working to collaborate with the other Councils to help realize the possibilities that manufacturing can bring to both developing and developed countries.

Individual persons are motivated by increasing their quality of life; the private sector is motivated by higher returns and shareholder value; and policymakers by increased jobs and growth in their communities and their country.

The link between a thriving manufacturing industry and a prosperous economy is strong and direct. When manufacturing investments are strong, a multiplier effect ripples across the economy, creating jobs and growth in other industries. In fact, manufacturing has the largest multiplier of any sector.

Manufacturing is the industry upon which the economic successes of industrialized nations are built. Today, technology and innovation drive growth within the sector and keep the industry current. Modern manufacturing is again changing the global economic landscape and influencing the direction of our future.

When a nation progresses towards more advanced manufacturing capabilities, it enables the production of more diverse and sophisticated products by using more advanced equipment and processing technologies. Thus, it opens the door for growth of jobs that demand higher skill levels at higher wages. This will, in turn, enable the nation to establish its own capabilities to innovate and set new economic development opportunities. And as new economic development opportunities arise and wages increase, so do does the standard of living for individuals and families.

Yet, as more developing and developed countries recognize this pattern of growth and sustainability, the global challenge has changed from a lack of emphasis and strategy, to finding enough workers to sustain the growth and strength of the manufacturing industry.

A skilled and educated workforce, or rather the lack of, is the greatest influence in global manufacturing. As manufacturing requires more advanced and technological skills, the competition for talent continues to grow. Without a skilled workforce, manufacturers lack not only the talent pipeline they need to sustain and grow production, but also lack the innovative capabilities to develop new products, processes and services.

Access to a highly skilled and educated workforce is the most critical element for innovation success. Increasingly, companies report they cannot find individuals with the skills required for today’s advanced manufacturing workplaces. These skill shortages pervade all stages of manufacturing – from engineering to skilled production.

The key to closing this growing skills gap is public-private partnership – where the education system provides industry-based training and is supported by private sector standards and on-the-job learning.

Industries with skills and competency based education enables students to directly control the focus of their career development. Aligning manufacturing education with industry standards sets high expectations and establishes an effective and critical talent pipeline.

In a clear example of adaption, U.S. manufacturers have mounted a national campaign called Manufacturing Day to open their doors and showcase the things they make. This initiative has grown past international boundaries to companies in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Germany, and continues to grow in a single unified effort to dispel myths and recruit the next generation of skilled workers. Manufacturers are engaging with educators and policy makers; they are investing in partnerships such as the Dream It. Do It. ambassadors’ programme, building work-based learning and apprenticeship programmes, and working to align vocational teaching with the current skills needs. It is this type of conscious engagement and innovative planning that has allowed manufacturing to thrive once again.

As global manufacturing grows, so do the benefits for individuals, companies and policymakers, and so must our commitment to partnering to create the best future we can.

The Summit on the Global Agenda 2015 takes place in Abu Dhabi from 25-27 October

Author: Jennifer McNelly, Executive Director of the Manufacturing Institute, chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Manufacturing 

Image: Employees work an assembly line at a factory of Glory Ltd., a manufacturer of automatic change dispensers, in Kazo, north of Tokyo, Japan, July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Issei Kato

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Related topics:
Future of WorkFourth Industrial Revolution
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