“There are no longer any great jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do.”
That’s a quote from bestselling author Seth Godin from his latest book, Linchpin, in which he describes how the best, most satisfied workers these days have become indispensible. They take initiative, propose ideas, and get the job done.
In a recent blog, Godin described why being this kind of worker may be so vital in the years to come. “There are actually two recessions: The first is the cyclical one, the one that inevitably comes and then inevitably goes. There's plenty of evidence that intervention can shorten it, and also indications that overdoing a response to it is a waste or even harmful. The other recession, though, the one with the loss of ‘good factory jobs’ and systemic unemployment--I fear that this recession is here forever. Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever?”
I’m not entirely onboard with his line of thinking. Yes, if a job can be automated cost-effectively, it will be eventually, and technology has indeed eliminated a lot of those stereotypical “good factory jobs.” But offshoring doesn’t necessarily make manufacturing less expensive, and factories now have plenty of jobs available--just not the kind Godin is probably referring to.
According to Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, this economy--with its 9 percent unemployment rate--has about 600,000 open manufacturing jobs that remain unfilled, simply because employers can’t find people with the right skills. And just look at the job board at the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association web site. New jobs appear continually.
Admittedly, these jobs require skills that aren’t easy to obtain. Engineering isn’t an easy major, and metal fabrication can’t be learned overnight. Manufacturing doesn’t offer a quick fix for our economy. But because it’s not quick, I believe it actually may be more sustainable.
Godin has built a reputation as a media and marketing guru. Media and marketing are the most visible industries because, of course, media and marketers constantly communicate. If they stop communicating, they stop making money. Their personal experience, though, often shapes their views. Many in media--including myself--spend much of the day in front of the laptop and on the phone. This explains some of Godin’s prose in his recent blog:
“When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.”
I write and edit for a living. All my work happens on-screen. So yes, I suppose I “own” a virtual factory of sorts. But I also know that millions do not spend their days in front of a laptop. They’re on thousands of shop floors that dot the country. They create value by analyzing manufacturability, developing new processes, suggesting new ones, and throwing out old ones. They create value the old-fashioned way: They actually make things.
Godin identifies a factory job of the industrial age as one that employs a person who does repetitive work, keeps his head down, and doesn’t ask questions. I agree with Godin here; that kind of job is fading away. But this doesn’t apply to manufacturing as a whole.
Manufacturers need trained workers who think. Indeed, a recent survey from FMA said that workers with leadership skills--those who take initiative and question the status quo--are the most valued and most difficult to find. I think Godin and others like him would relate well to these technical leaders, those with strong technical skills who make change happen. And these people actually work in real factories, not virtual ones from a laptop.
Many in mass media and marketing probably don’t visit manufacturers often. They don’t talk to workers and supervisors. They don’t know how dynamic their jobs really are. They just know that millions have lost their jobs and assume manufacturing isn’t the answer for economic growth.
That’s an understandable assumption, but one that may lack some perspective. The sector has shrunk significantly, to be sure, but its demand for skill has only grown. Manufacturing has led the country out of the recession, and it now has 600,000 jobs to offer those with the right skills. If that doesn’t represent an opportunity for economic growth, I don’t know what does.