“People are the greatest asset a company like mine has… When I buy a piece of equipment, no matter how sophisticated, it’s obsolete immediately to something better. But there’s one asset I have that’s never obsolete and that’s my people.– John Hazen White, President and CEO, Taco, Inc.”
The manufacturing sector is one of the economy’s most fundamental drivers, as evidenced by the instrumental role it has played in generating economic growth throughout the nation’s history. Manufacturing is once again proving vital as it’s been a significant factor in America’s recovery from the Great Recession. In recent years, the federal government and private sector have introduced initiatives that seek to propel growth in American manufacturing, while also encouraging innovation in the sector. So, how successful have these policy efforts been? What does the future hold for American manufacturing? And how can U.S. institutions build on the momentum of a promising American manufacturing renaissance?
On July 10, Governance Studies at Brookings hosted the half-day John Hazen White Forum on Public Policy focused on manufacturing and which policy ideas and reforms could best benefit workforce productivity and innovation in the sector.
Executives from Alcoa Inc. and Pfizer Inc. examined innovations that have occurred in their business, and discussed the challenges they face in maintaining a commitment to high quality products in a competitive industry that emphasizes volume and efficiency. They also addressed America’s cultural emphasis on the importance of postsecondary education, noting that many manufacturing jobs do not require even a four-year degree.
“Manufacturing is absolutely key to the GDP growth of the United States. For the most part you can’t export a service, what you export are products.” – Eric Roegner
Representatives of the Congressional Research Service and IDA Science & Technology Policy Institute discussed the difficulties facing the manufacturing workforce as plant labor becomes increasingly automated.
“The typical manufacturing worker is going to have to be more of a troubleshooter…The conception of a worker is no longer the same as it used to be.” – Asha Balakrishnan
“There is nothing going on in manufacturing that is going to offer jobs for high school dropouts or for that matter even high school graduates who don’t go on to higher education.” – Marc Levinson
In the third panel, John Hazen White of Taco Inc., the Honorable David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Governance Studies Fellow Elisabeth Jacobs discussed the phenomenon of workplace education and the role the federal government can play in training the workforce to innovate and improve productivity in the manufacturing sector.
“We have to recognize that the manufacturing jobs today are not your mother and father’s manufacturing jobs… they are much more sophisticated and almost all require some postsecondary education.”– David Cicilline