Just In Time -- Answering the Call

Oct. 9, 2008
Manufacturers keep finding a way to get the job done, no matter what.

The financial crisis. War. Contaminated food. Global warming. Political infighting. Offshore competition. Massive layoffs. Belligerent dictators and despots. Depressed housing market. Rising fuel prices. Commodity shortages. In fact, the only commodity that seems to be in abundance right now is pessimism. It reminds me of that famous line from Chief Justice Earl Warren, who once said he always turns to the sports page first because there he can read about people's accomplishments; the front page has nothing but people's failures.

We recently ran a poll on our Web site asking: "Which presidential candidate is most in tune with the needs of manufacturing professionals?" McCain outpolled Obama 44% to 37%, but the most significant result of the poll was that a third option -- "neither one" -- got 19% of the vote. In other words, nearly one out of five manufacturing professionals is of the opinion that neither candidate understands one of the bedrock foundations of the U.S. economy. Hard to spin a positive take on such an utter lack of confidence in our next Chief Executive, whoever ends up with the job.

But this isn't a diatribe on how rotten things are because, guess what? Despite a relentless cacophony of in-your-face doom-and-gloom on the front page every day, it turns out that Americans still tend to feel pretty good about their companies and their work situation. To be sure, pockets of discontent can be found anywhere you look, but based on a recent workforce study conducted by the Kenexa Research Institute, 73% of the workers in the United States are confident in their companies' future, 65% believe their companies are managed effectively and 80% feel that the products and services offered by their companies are of high quality.

Kenexa's study of more than 5,000 U.S. workers also reveals that seven out of 10 employees don't believe they're at risk of being laid off. And while it's not an overwhelming number, 60% believe there's a bright future ahead for them at their current organizations. As Jeffrey Saltzman, practice leader at Kenexa, explains, "In essence, people feel good about the future of their organizations, how they are run and the products they produce. Most feel that they can hang onto their jobs, but should they lose their jobs, there is a bit of gnawing uncertainty regarding their ability to find another. This is especially true when salaries are taken into consideration; only 59% say they could find another job that paid them the equivalent of what they currently earn."

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See Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's blog about supply chain management.
I recently had the chance to meet Bob Simpson, the new president of the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), at the IMTS trade show in Chicago, which drew more than 92,000 people curious to see the latest in automation technology. As he sees it, the top priority for U.S. manufacturers is cultivating more young people to take an interest in manufacturing.

"Everything you read and everyone that talks about the future of manufacturing starts off with the fact of getting young people involved in it," Simpson says. "The more people we get involved in manufacturing, the greater the productivity becomes, because there's always somebody asking, Why are we doing it this way?' And that leads to more innovation. That's part of America. That's the ingenuity that's always ben there. Ever since we came over here, we've always rolled up our sleeves and tried to be better and better and better."

I'd like to think that Simpson has merely articulated what we all, in our hearts, believe -- that no matter who wins in the elections, and despite all the predictions in the popular press about another Great Depression looming on the horizon, the doers and the creators and the innovators in this country will keep figuring out a way to make things better. And maybe it's time we started celebrating U.S. manufacturers with the same fervor that we celebrate our sports heroes.

David Blanchard is IW's editor-in-chief. He is based in Cleveland. Also see Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's blog about supply chain management.

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