"It was the worst of times, it was the best of times."
Charles Dickens would probably forgive this inversion if he, too, was examining U.S. manufacturing -- and, by inference, the workplace well beyond -- on this 2019 Manufacturing Day.
First, the well known bad news.
CNN's Matt Egan, yesterday:
" America's manufacturing industry is in contraction. Business spending is soft. And now the biggest chunk of the economy, the US service sector, is growing at its weakest pace in three years...
"Although the service sector is still expanding, the [Institute for Supply Management] gloomy report raises concern that America's manufacturing troubles are spilling over into the broader economy. Slammed by the trade war, US manufacturing activity dropped deeper into contraction in September, the most sluggish month for factories since June 2009."
But "Manufacturing Day" may also be a time for optimism. That comes with acknowledging two kinds of work opportunities in contemporary manufacturing -- "new collar" jobs on the horizon; and white collar jobs now available but unheralded. Here's one savvy assessment from the Gray Construction blog:
"American manufacturers already face significant skills shortages and are on the pace to have two million
unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2025 [Emphasis added]. Many of these positions require higher-skills to operate and support advanced manufacturing equipment ... Automation and robotics are also becoming embedded into manufacturing processes ... Such large-scale digitalization requires workers with more advanced skills - typically one or two years of post-secondary education or training. These workers represent the "new collar" workforce...
"Several years ago Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, stated ... What matters most is that these employees have relevant skills, often obtained through vocational training.
"More recently she has called for government, industry and educational leaders to develop innovative ways to build the white collar workforce of the future."
As if in response, yesterday Google pledged to train 250,00 people for such jobs, joining the White House "Pledge to America's Workers" initiative to expand such training opportunities.
And this optimism on current job openings in manufacturing that exist largely under the radar:
Yesterday, Stony Brook University (New York) hosted a conference to debunk "the false perception that all factory positions involve standing behind a machine for eight hours a day," according to a report in Newsday :
"While the manufacturing sector is best known for blue-collar production jobs, it also offers white-collar jobs in research and development, logistics, quality control, purchasing, sales and marketing ... And manufacturing jobs come with higher salaries, on average, and better health insurance and retirement plans than other sectors of the economy."
A panelist: "You can enter manufacturing at any point in your educational journey - directly after high school, associate degree, bachelor's degree or doctorate - and there's opportunity to work your way up."
All in, neither the worst of times nor the best of times. Simply our times.