By Dr. Pietro (Pete) Savo
The U.S. manufacturing sector has undergone a massive change in the last several decades. Both print and online media document new automated technology and outline the lack of competitive advantage to improve operational efficiency. This inefficiency led to many manufacturing plants closing and a climbing unemployment rate. The result is a loss of U.S. manufacturing knowledge and manufacturing jobs. Historically, the manufacturing workforce was often composed of family members who had worked for generations at the same plant. The sharing of manufacturing knowledge occurred at the dinner table. In addition, skilled workers rose through the ranks and held management positions, thereby expanding the knowledge beyond the family. In this way, manufacturing knowledge continued to grow through the sharing of ideas.
As competition increased and methodologies changed, the required skill set changed. Remaining competitive meant hiring managers with university-generated business skills and little or no hand-on manufacturing experience. These highly educated and poorly experienced leaders began encouraging the older manufacturing generation to retire – or simply downsized them altogether. This meant a continued loss of historical and hands-on knowledge over the last 50 years. In 1950, manufacturing was about 35 percent of total employment. In 2004, this number dropped to only 13 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland economic commentary “Why Are We Losing Manufacturing Jobs?” In 2014, the number was only 6.6 percent. These changes made learning from the past difficult at best.
I began to write this article over 30 years ago when I was a production manufacturing worker at Sikorsky Aircraft. I witnessed the jobs leaving firsthand. Thirty years later while conducting research for my doctoral dissertation, I discovered that the missing link to that mass exodus of jobs was the devastating loss of manufacturing knowledge. This discovery prompted the need to create a potential solution rooted in two very important U.S. industries: the career college and manufacturing communities. My research identified the career college sector as the community best equipped to support this ground-level important function in our nation.
The career college community is grounded firmly in a context that is best equipped to support the U.S. manufacturing industry, because career colleges, universities and vocational schools are closest to the workforce. Bringing well-paying manufacturing jobs back is critical to the future of our sector. The global labor market has become strong outside the U.S. because of the high labor cost stigma associated with the U.S. economy. Heightened domestic costs empowered millions of people around the world to compete for U.S. jobs. This increased global competition led to downsizing of the manufacturing sector in the U.S. Many products formerly manufactured in the U.S. are now manufactured in part or in whole elsewhere in the world. U.S. companies outsourced manufacturing because the company’s leaders honestly believed American workers held no competitive advantage over cheap offshore labor. This strategy caused great devastation by halting investments in manufacturing technology and education. When companies do not have the additional capital generated from higher revenue to invest back into the business, the result is a loss of competitive advantage and shared knowledge.
The U.S. economy relies heavily on manufacturing, meaning that the sustained growth of the manufacturing industry is paramount to economic stability. The purpose of this article is to introduce the feasibility of a certification to bridge the gap between manufacturing and research in the U.S. by establishing a side-by-side value education partnership that links manufacturing industries and the career college community.
The researcher sought to understand the challenges from both a practitioner’s and researcher’s perspective. Manufacturing leaders participating in the survey for the feasibility study were from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Rolls Royce, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and United Technologies; the survey also included supply chain leaders from the U.S. government. Eighty percent of the survey respondents agreed that there is a need for a new manufacturing practitioner certification. Eighty-three percent of the survey respondents agreed that a new certified professional would improve manufacturing productivity through focused career education. Ninety-four percent of the survey respondents agreed that engaging in technology and career education would increase manufacturing opportunities. My study provided the educational capital to identify the need for developing a new joint manufacturing and research career-educated specialist, called the certified manufacturing practitioner (CMP).
The CMP concept simplifies the means to link the past, the present and the future by developing business solutions from shared leaders’ experiences in the manufacturing industries. The new certified manufacturing practitioner program is designed to improve knowledge sharing through case study evaluation that is grounded in where the manufacturing jobs reside. This shared education understanding takes the manufacturing case study out of the university classroom to the manufacturing shop floor. Career-guided steps are necessary to prevent further degradation of the manufacturing knowledge base. Historical literature provides the means to improve the U.S. manufacturing industry’s productivity and competitiveness through past and present case studies. Learning from history can improve the future. Business and manufacturing case studies provide real-life stories of successes and failures in the same industry and should be the basis for knowledge sharing. Students can best obtain and share this knowledge when the career education community is committed to rolling up its sleeves to deliver hands-on career education experience directly from the U.S. manufacturing source: the manufacturing shop floor.
The problem today is that business-manufacturing case studies do not receive adequate attention. It is difficult for a manufacturing business to be competitive in today’s volatile business market without having the means to review, understand, and benefit from experience. Not learning from the past creates a communication disconnect and knowledge loss, which has a direct link to lost manufacturing businesses and jobs. In manufacturing, when learning stems from past successes and mistakes, business efficiency, and competitiveness naturally follow, because an understanding of the past reduces the risk of repeating the same mistake – or, even worse, not learning from or sharing success stories. Success is dependent on the ability to develop and identify manufacturing solutions from case studies. This ability also can provide a heads-up display for market changes, diversity of markets and the ability to adapt to markets with a historical customer perspective that is practitioner-based.
A CMP practitioner can fuel progressive learning across corporate cultures and different leadership styles, and he or she could have the influence to build upon strong team-based relationships that share knowledge. The cost of waiting for old ideas to catch up with modern-day manufacturing practices obstructs new manufacturing market opportunities. Such obstructions represent a stream of wasteful manufacturing practices, making it difficult to be competitive in today’s volatile manufacturing markets. The loss of competitiveness results in lost manufacturing work and higher unemployment statistics. Once people become unemployed, 44 percent remain unemployed for 27 weeks or more, as reported by the Congressional Budget Office. CMP becomes the natural bridge by forming sustainable manufacturing solutions based on experiences, while at the same time observing market changes that provide the means to respond, adapt and capitalize on this market change. Finding the strengths and weaknesses of employees becomes important to rediscovering the company’s value.
CMP career college partnerships work with U.S. manufacturers to help them create and retain jobs, increase profits, and save time and money. Today, the manufacturing industry knowledge base is limited to real-time events that occur daily in the manufacturing industry. The CMP embraces a holistic and unified approach in career education study connected to the manufacturing shop floor, and it creates the means to retain and share manufacturing knowledge.
Imagine the education possibilities when the career college community reshapes the U.S. and global manufacturing industry. So, is the career college community ready to take CMP from a research study concept to a successful manufacturing reality? I think so. Dr. Pietro (Pete) Savo
Originally published: Career College Central Magazine, May/June 2014