Americans expressed faith in the country’s workforce but voiced concerns that government policies may be putting the manufacturing sector at a disadvantage and dissuading Americans from pursuing production jobs, according to a new Labor Day survey from Deloitte (www.deloitte.com), an audit, financial advisory, tax and consulting firm, and The Manufacturing Institute (http://institute.nam.org) a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
The second annual Public Viewpoint on Manufacturing survey, released on Sept. 2 by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, indicates that 78 percent of Americans have a strong view of the significance of manufacturing, seeing it as very important to the country's economic prosperity. A similar number of respondents, 76 percent, indicate that manufacturing is very important to the standard of living in the United States.
Ready and able
Further, the public believes that the American worker is ready and able to participate in a healthy manufacturing sector. When asked to select from a list of 21 attributes that make American manufacturing globally competitive, respondents identified the top three as: work ethic, skilled workforce and productivity—well ahead of non-workforce related attributes such as infrastructure and natural resources.
Respondents also looked at the attributes that give the United States an advantage over other nations—again naming the skilled U.S. workforce as a top attribute alongside technology, and research and development capabilities. When asked to select attributes that are causing the most concern, respondents’ top three selections were state and federal leadership, tax rates on individuals, and government business policies.
“Clearly, the public believes in the importance of manufacturing and the talent of the American worker,” says Craig Giffi, vice chairman and Deloitte’s consumer & industrial products industry leader in the United States. “These findings fly in the face of the commonly held sentiment that Americans no longer have faith in manufacturing and that the workforce has lost its ability to compete with other parts of the world when it comes to making things. In point of fact, the public has plenty of faith in the American worker, as well as our technology and research capabilities.”
Giffi also notes that the public is surprisingly enthusiastic about charting a course that will ensure the manufacturing industry’s future, citing the fact that 75 percent of survey respondents believe that the United States needs a more strategic approach to developing its manufacturing base. Moreover, he observes that roughly the same percentage believe the country should invest more in the manufacturing industry, while 68 percent believe that developing a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority.
“So, why aren't American workers going into manufacturing?” asks Giffi. He says that the answer can be found in the survey results, which indicate that respondents are insecure about the future health of the manufacturing industry: 55 percent think the long term outlook for American manufacturing is weaker than today, and only 30 percent of respondents would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career. The survey shows that this trepidation is tied directly to concerns over government policies. Respondents consistently identified government-related factors as the biggest obstacles to the success of manufacturing in the United States; specifically policies relating to business, tax rates on individuals, and both state and federal leadership in this area.
Emily DeRocco, president of The Manufacturing Institute, points out that the public's concerns about manufacturing “do not lie in a poor image of what the jobs are like, as many people seem to think.” She explains that the majority of survey respondents, in fact, see manufacturing as futuristic. “When asked if manufacturing is high-tech, 63 percent of respondents strongly agree or agree, and the same amount strongly agree or agree that it requires well-educated, highly skilled workers,” DeRocco says.
She adds, “The public seems to be getting over its negative view of manufacturing as being dirty and dangerous work for unskilled laborers. What the public needs now is stability and certainty from policy makers. Without that, the public cannot commit itself to a manufacturing renaissance in the United States.”
DeRocco sums up the survey by saying that if the public does not think there is a national manufacturing direction, people are not likely to pursue jobs in the sector or support the construction of new plants in their communities. Further, she says that it is hard to imagine a moment in recent history when it has been so important to take advantage of the public’s faith in the workforce by investing in training and educating the workers of the future—largely because the industry has taken some serious blows in the wake of the global recession, losing 2 million manufacturing jobs as a direct result of the economic meltdown.
“The bottom line,” says DeRocco, “is that we must reconcile America's belief in the prowess of our workforce with its concerns about policy disadvantages—or we could face discouraging reports for many Labor Days to come.”
About the survey
The survey was commissioned by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, and was conducted online by an independent research company in June of 2010. The survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1055 Americans across 50 states and has a margin of error for the entire sample of +/- three percentage points.