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Reclaiming America’s Manufacturing Prowess is No Simple Job

Bringing back manufacturing jobs to the United States would benefit not only American workers, but consumers as well.

The truth is that bringing manufacturing prowess jobs back to the United States is not as easy as signing an executive order. When we lost those jobs, primarily to Asian countries, we lost our expertise in the process.

It didn’t happen overnight. By allowing extensive outsourcing of particular products—specifically electronics—over a prolonged period of time, we managed to completely outsource our knowledge of how many of these manufacturing systems operate.

Over the years, manufacturers in China, Taiwan, and Korea haven’t been resting on their laurels. They developed new ways of making their products by outfitting and redesigning and retraining their machines and machine operators to pump out a line of products more efficiently and at lower cost.

They’ve built up infrastructure around these massive operations. They’ve partnered with universities, with shipping and receiving companies. They’ve got the supply—plastics and metals galore. Even if the United States government was able to send these jobs back to us in a gift basket, the American people would not be in a position to fill these roles.

A secondary effect of outsourcing jobs is a decline in quality.

Be honest, does it really give you comfort when you see that “Made in (foreign country goes here)” sticker pasted on the side of your curling iron? How about your jumper cables?

It’s enough to make me update my will.

Fact is, some of the foreign companies that make our products don’t have the same idea of quality or simply aren’t held to the same standards that American companies are held to. When it comes to faulty products that seriously injure or even kill their customers, they may even decide it’s more advantageous to cover it up than to correct course.

After all, what is an American life worth to an overseas company that can simply change its name and continue selling a bad product without repercussions?

If there’s an argument to be made for bringing back manufacturing jobs to the United States, it doesn’t end at the benefits it provides only to American workers. We’re talking major benefits to the consumer, as well.

American manufacturing means Americans making products for other Americans. Generally speaking, Americans care about each other. We care what happens to our neighbor when they buy our products. We care about the kid in Arizona who uses a toy we made in Ohio with our own two hands.

When Americans make products for other Americans, the products we create and consume get better and safer.

If we are truly serious about making America a great manufacturing nation again, we must invest in our own workforce.

In one of the most telling studies, Deloitte’s Center for Industrial Insights and the Council on Competitiveness published the 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index and stated that: “As global manufacturing trends continue to shift toward higher-value products and services, many of these top performing countries, including the United States, have invested heavily in establishing national innovation ecosystems which connect people, resources, policies, and organizations to efficiently translate new ideas into commercialized products and services.”

Think about the core of that statement – countries have invested in entire ecosystems to create new products. The USA has done this, as seen with high tech in Silicon Valley and other areas. But other countries are doing it as well and, in some cases, doing it better.

President Trump said it himself in a speech on February 23, 2016, “We don’t make television sets anymore, folks.” Was he right? Not completely, but Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, told Politifact that just about all components for TVs - the electronics that go inside the set - are made in Asia, and "it would be impossible to manufacture a TV in the U.S. without imported parts."

Modern machinery used in the manufacturing process can be incredibly complex and require specialized knowledge and skills to operate. We can teach our workers how to use them; all we have to do is commit to teaching them.

Our current knowledge of how these manufacturing systems work is outdated. Our skilled labor is way behind. If we’re going to take these jobs and excel at them and compete in the marketplace, we need to be brought up to speed.

For starters, not everybody needs a college degree. There are well-paid, fulfilling trade and manufacturing jobs out there that don’t require a college degree. We just have to teach young workers what they need to know to get these jobs and that means focusing on giving them the world’s best trade school education right here in the United States.

For example, in early 2017 a program was launched in Texas called the Industry Cluster Innovative Academies, which was funded with an initial $7.2 million grant by the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative.  This partnership between the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board works with local school districts, institutions of higher education and local businesses to "design pathways that lead to opportunities in high-demand occupations in targeted industry clusters," including advanced technologies and manufacturing, aerospace and defense, energy, biotechnology and life sciences, information and computer technology, and petroleum refining and chemical products. This program is introducing students still in high school to new manufacturing and other high-demand opportunities and coursework, thus providing companies seeking to build in the U.S. a steady supply of experienced, trained employees.

Finally, there is something all of us can do to help bring back American manufacturing jobs: simply "buy American." It’s a simple choice that’s not made enough. Shell out the ten extra bucks. It’s worth it in the long run – executive order or not.

Chris Wilkes is president and CEO of Sigmetrix, a mechanical engineering software company based in McKinney, Texas, and chairman of the board for the North Texas Angel Network (NTAN). Email: [email protected]

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