Metal fabricators got a quick history lesson before technical presentations on automation at Mazak Optonics' open house event in Elgin, Ill., in mid-June. As with any look back, it gave everyone a better idea of what the road ahead may look like.
Historical fact: While millions of U.S. citizens used to be employed in agriculture at the turn of the 19th century, today only 1.9 percent of the working-age population is needed to grow food for this country and the entire world. Lesson learned: Just because fewer people are farmers doesn't mean this country has no farming. The same scenario applies to manufacturing, which many people incorrectly assume is disappearing from the U.S. at an alarming rate.
Historical fact: Since 1987 factory output in the durable goods sector has risen 160 percent while employment decreased 20 percent. Lesson learned: Fewer people are needed to maintain record-high productivity in today's manufacturing facilities.
Historical fact: While the unemployment rate still hovers around 9 percent for the general population, it's about 16 percent for those without a high school diploma. Lesson learned: Manufacturing isn't absorbing these under-educated people because these companies need an educated workforce to operate sophisticated equipment.