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Thoughts on Today's PR Offensive and Our Brand Challenge

Oct. 4, 2013
Needed: creative ways to make people realize that manufacturing is done in sparkling labs, not dark caves--and that it pays pretty good, too.

“Curious about how the broader World Out There is absorbing and processing today’s Manufacturing Day events—this “charm offensive” as one wag tagged it—I did a little digging around. Here’s a sampling of what I found.

Suggested new industry tagline: “Earn seventy-seven grand a year—in a lab, not a cave.”
San Jose Mercury News columnist Mike Cassidy, who writes for the Silicon Valley crowd and strikes me as an outside-the-lines colorer, reports that Manufacturing Day makes him feel “an industrial sort of giddiness” inside.

Cassidy quotes San Jose economic development innovation officer Matt Chwierut as saying manufacturing “suffers from a brand challenge” and that when people think of manufacturing, “They think of some scene from ‘Lord of the Rings’ where people are over anvils with hammers and beating metal and burning trees in the dark cave.”

He contrasts that image with today’s Silicon Valley plants, which he says are “more likely to look like a sparkling laboratory.”

Cassidy concludes his Manufacturing Day treatise with this entreaty: “Don’t just stand there; make something.”

The Elkhart [Ind.] Truth wonders, in a headline, “Did you know there was such as thing as Manufacturing Day?” This query appears atop a piece that trumpets how vital the manufacturing biz is in Elkhart County, “which ranks among the top counties in the U.S. for employment in the manufacturing sector, with more than 40% of the workforce employed in manufacturing.”

Is it me or is there some dissonance going on there?

The Perception Gap

In a commentary piece in U.S. News & World Report, Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman and NAM President Jay Timmons decry the “perception gap,” noting that while for many people the word “manufacturing” conjures images of the Industrial Revolution, …

Suggested new industry tagline: “Earn seventy-seven grand a year—in a lab, not a cave.”
“… Times have changed. Manufacturing has changed. The jobs are challenging. Welders, CNC programmers and operators, electricians, pipefitters, machinists—to cite a few examples—are highly skilled. And the jobs pay well. The average manufacturing worker earns roughly $77,000. The jobs take talent, know-how and teamwork, but they don't require a four-year college degree.

“It's time for us to admit that college isn't for everyone, and a college degree doesn't guarantee success. Instead of pushing all students down one path toward a four-year degree, shouldn't we instead focus on developing the skills and knowledge actually needed for the workforce of today and tomorrow?”

Why, yes, now that you ask. We certainly should.

Oberhelman and Timmons also report that “just three in 10 parents want their children to choose manufacturing as their career.”

"Just" three in 10? I’d have guessed the ratio was lower than that. Assuming that 30% figure is correct, it’s really not a bad starting point at all—is it?

Oh, by the way: seventy-seven grand a year, to work in a high-tech “sparkling laborary,” and no college loans to pay off? That strikes me as a hell of a great hook. We should ALL be leading with that one.

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