Grandpappy’s Hammer

How technology is not only impacting the manufacturing jobs of the future, but all industry jobs today.

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General Electric has a series of advertisements on television that I find fascinating. A twenty-something man has just been hired by GE. He is excited, as he should be. The ads show his interpersonal relationships and the reactions of his family and friends.

First, we look at his visit with mom and dad. The three of them are sitting in their living room and dad is so proud of his son getting a job with a manufacturer. He offers up Grandpappy’s Hammer, which appears to be a 20-pound sledgehammer, and gets upset when a bewildered look appears on his son’s face. Dad’s disappointment becomes apparent when he says “You can’t pick it up, can you?” He then further challenges his son to “Go ahead, pick it up.”

In the other two commercials, the young man is with his friends. They can’t understand that he isn’t going to write apps anymore and are disappointed in his failure.

I find them fascinating because of the dynamics playing out. The young man has (I’m assuming) completed his degree, interviewed with a large technologically diverse company, and impressed them enough to get hired. He is excited about “writing new languages” to do things such as help trains communicate. But his friends don’t see it that way. They see it as a failure of sorts that he will not be writing apps.

I see Grandpappy’s Hammer as a metaphor for the manufacturing jobs that have disappeared from the U.S. and probably will not come back. But there are still jobs available for people with the proper skillset. In place of Grandpappy’s Hammer are high-tech jobs that require engineering skills to perform. According to a recent National Science Foundation report, the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce is extensive and critical to innovation and competitiveness. The report notes that “Half of the workers in S&E [science and engineering] occupations earned $78,270 or more in 2012, more than double the median earnings ($34,750) of the total U.S. workforce.”

And if increased salary isn’t enough of an incentive, consider this other finding in the NSF report: “Unemployment rates for those in S&E occupations tend to be lower than those for all college graduates and much lower than those for the overall labor force. In October 2010, an estimated 4.3 percent of scientists and engineers … were unemployed. At the same time, the official unemployment rate for the entire U.S. labor force was 9 percent.”

With regards to demographics, the NSF report does point out that “women remain underrepresented in the S&E workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past.” The report also notes that “historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, particularly blacks and Hispanics, continue to display lower S&E participation rates relative to their presence in the U.S. population.”

If you know people who are considering a STEM career, particularly women and minorities, be sure to encourage them. It offers challenging career and educational opportunities. It pays well and provides a degree of employment stability in times of economic downturns. Replace Grandpappy’s Hammer with today’s technology jobs. As Dad says, “Go ahead, pick it up.”

In case you have not seen the GE commercials referred to above, links to each follow:

David K. Anderson is senior project manager at Loman Control Systems Inc.,a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association. Learn more about Loman Control Systems on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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