How important is manufacturing to Australians?

Naturally the manufacturing sector is vitally important to you, but what about for those outside the industry? Results from a recent US survey of non-manufacturers may surprise you.

Naturally the manufacturing sector is vitally important to you, but what about for those outside the industry? Results from a recent US survey of non-manufacturers may surprise you.

NEXT time you are at a BBQ or dinner with non-manufacturing friends, ask them which industry they believe is the most important to Australia’s economy.

I would suspect, though I admit I might be pleasantly surprised, that manufacturing would not be their first choice.

Not so in the US, a recent survey Public Viewpoint on Manufacturing ranks manufacturing as the number one industry for the country’s economic prosperity.

The Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute study reveals Americans still believe that manufacturing remains the backbone of the economy, despite the industry being decimated in recent times (1.4 million manufacturing jobs were lost from 2002 to 2006).

However, while the study shows that Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong national economy, there is a wide perception gap between the public’s positive views of manufacturing’s contributions to America’s economic success and their negative views about pursuing a career in manufacturing.

The survey, which assessed public perceptions and understanding of a wide range of issues related to manufacturing, shows that the majority of respondents (71%) view manufacturing as a national priority, with 59% agreeing that the US manufacturing industry effectively competes on a global scale.

These results are in line with US public perceptions that manufacturing plays a larger role in overall economic prosperity compared to the technology, energy (mining), health care, retail, communications and financial services industries.

Most also agreed that US’s manufacturing industries have a significant impact on their standard of living (81%) and on national security (68%).

When asked which industry they would most want to have creating 1,000 jobs in their community, respondents listed manufacturing as their top choice, followed by technology, energy, health care, retail, communications and financial institutions.

While Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong national economy, the survey shows they would not pursue careers in manufacturing.

Only 17% named manufacturing as among their top two industry choices to start a career, and only 30% of parents said they would encourage their children to pursue jobs in manufacturing.

This survey of 1000 Americans across 50 states sheds light on a massive disconnect in manufacturing.

Similar to Australia, there is still an outdated image of manufacturing and the career opportunities available in this industry.

While this global recession has had a major impact on Australian manufacturing jobs over the past year (ABS figures reveal that 76,600 jobs were lost from May 2008 to May 2009), cutting-edge technology has transformed manufacturing in ways that are hard for the man-in-the-street to imagine.

Many jobs now require postsecondary education, skills certification and credentials across a broad range of high-quality career paths. The reality is that many manufacturers offer high-paying jobs and rewarding careers for working men and women.

US respondents agreed with that conclusion. However, the majority (77%) believe that the US needs a more strategic approach to develop its manufacturing base, and 74% said that the US should further invest in manufacturing industries.

For the full report go to www.deloitte.com/dtt/cda/doc/content/us_mfg_manufacturingviewpoint060809.pdf.

The question is why is there such strong support in the US and not here. Talking to a few manufacturers it is clear we need to raise our profile.

The Ai Group does a fantastic job with industrial relations and major issues that affect our industry, with Heather Ridout clearly having Kevin Rudd’s ear.

But at a different level, more could be done to raise the awareness of manufacturing with the general public, showing that it’s no longer rust belts and smokestacks.

I remember interviewing Bob Herbert on his first day as CEO of the Ai Group back in the 90’s where we discussed changing the name of manufacturing to something with positive connotations.

Radical maybe, achievable probably not, but giving the negative perception ‘manufacturing’ has, maybe I should go back to my notes.

Train plan derailed

Readers might remember in the last issue of MM, my excitement at the prospect of Canberra setting up a task force to bring Australia’s disparate rail industry into the 21st century.

However, for reasons known only to COAG, the group has decided to delay the establishment of a national rail safety regulator and a national rail safety investigator.

This was a unique opportunity to undertake essential micro-economic reform just when Australia needs a more efficient regulatory framework.

Manufacturers involved with the industry must be shaking their heads in disbelief as yet another opportunity goes begging.

This in-decision inhibits volumes and leaves a continuing disincentive for companies to invest in manufacturing capability.

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