LANSING – When Jay Timmons took over as president and CEO of The National Association of Manufacturers’ in 2011, many said manufacturing in the United States was dead, that factories and jobs were moving overseas and this country would have to shift to a service economy.
Today he calls that notion “farcical.” With growth in fields like robotics, artificial intelligence and augmented reality, there are an estimated 300,000 openings in manufacturing right now, Timmons said.
And the number of vacancies is expected to grow to 2 million by 2025, he said.
Timmons launched NAM’s fourth annual State of Manufacturing Tour at Automation Alley in Troy with a State of Manufacturing address highlighting manufacturing’s future and to point out the industry’s need for a modern manufacturing workforce. Timmons then traveled to Oakland Schools’ Technical Campus Northeast in Pontiac for a tour with Gov. Rick Snyder.
The eight-day tour will also take him to Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama, New York, Kansas, California and Missouri.
“The nature of work is changing, and the types of jobs we’re creating are shifting,” Timmons said. “Innovation is transforming the way manufacturers operate, and there is an urgent need for talented and skilled men and women on our shop floors and in our facilities working as coders, technicians, craftspeople, designers, marketers and so much more.”
Manufacturing jobs are no longer assembly line jobs. The jobs are “upscaling” to high tech, highly skilled jobs, some of which require a four-year degree. Manufacturing needs engineers, chemists and PhDs, he said.
But not all require such high level education, which means applicants can win jobs without having to incur thousands in student loan debt, Timmons said.
Community colleges are stepping up to provide the programming to teach the skills needed to fill the skills gap. But he said employers themselves are adding on-the-job training programs, and he suggested workers will see more such employer training in the future.
It is also a myth that robotics will replace workers, Timmons said. Humans still have to program and maintain those robots, so the nature of manufacturing work is changing.
Innovation has driven much of the recent growth in manufacturing, but so has tax reform. Timmons points directly to the tax reform passed by Congress and approved by President Donald Trump as a reason for the growth and number of openings.
When the tax reform was pending, NAM surveyed members for their reaction should the proposal pass. Two-thirds said they would invest in facilities and equipment. Three-fifths said they would hire more workers and half said they would increase pay and benefits.
So that growth in investment and jobs, Timmons said, was a way for manufacturers to keep their commitment.
He said manufacturers are “thrilled” that the federal government has put a new emphasis on investing in infrastructure as well as the recent tax reform.
Manufacturing contributes an estimated $2.25 trillion to the U.S. economy yearly and employs 12 million people, almost 600,000 in Michigan alone.