Public Loves Manufacturing, but Not Manufacturing Jobs

Manufacturing is important, survey shows, but public still not enthused about manufacturing careers.

Some 86% of respondents believing that America's manufacturing base is "important" or "very important" to their standard of living, according to a new survey from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. The poll of 1,000 Americans found that 79% say a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority.

In fact, respondents said if they could create 1,000 new jobs in their community with any new facility, they would put manufacturing at the top of the list -- ahead of energy production facilities, technology development centers, retail centers, or financial institutions.

But while the public supports manufacturing, it is not keen to pursue manufacturing as a career. Only 33% of respondents said they would encourage their child to pursue a career in manufacturing.

Americans "want more manufacturing jobs but they want those jobs for someone else," Emily Stover DeRocco, president, The Manufacturing Institute, told a press briefing. DeRocco said the disconnect was due in part to continuing concerns that manufacturing jobs were being moved overseas and that manufacturing did not represent a stable career path.

Lack of interest in manufacturing careers, said DeRocco, "becomes a U.S. manufacturing competitiveness issue because we know that an educated and skilled 21st century workforce is the most important factor behind innovation and business success. As the industry faces major 'boomer' retirements, a shortage in the supply of new talent will directly impact a company's ability to thrive and expand in the global economy."

The survey showed continued concern about the U.S. economy. Some 72% do not believe that the economy has been improving or is in better shape since 2008. Two-thirds (67%) believe the economy remains weak and could fall back into recession. Just under half of Americans (48%) said they were optimistics that the economy will show significant signs of improvement by 2015.

Asked about the long-term prospects for U.S. manufacturing, 55% of the respondents said it was becoming weaker, while only 7% said it will likely be stronger. Craig Giffi, vice chairman and consumer & industrial products industry leader, Deloitte LLP, said this means the public has real concerns over manufacturing losing steam along with the economy.

"While Americans' commitment to manufacturing is unwavering -- meaning that they would like to see more manufacturing jobs created and strengthen the areas of competitive advantage that the U.S. has relative to other nations -- they worry that these efforts may be undermined by the faltering economy and the nation's perceived lack of a competitiveness strategy," Giffi said.

Asked what attributes were an advantage to U.S. competitiveness, respondents put technology use/availability and R&D capabilities at the top of the list. They also cited advantages in energy availability, a skilled workforce and natural resources. But less than a third of those surveyed said federal or state government leadership, trade policies, individual tax rates or government business policies were an advantage.

DeRocco warns that Americans "are not confident that policymakers are taking the right approach today to support U.S. competitiveness." She noted that 83% of survey respondents either "strongly agree" or "agree" that America needs a more strategic approach to develop its manufacturing base. And she pointed to survey results that more than two-thirds see current public policies having a neutral or negative impact relative to our ability to compete with other nations.

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