Countless talking heads have argued for and against globalization. Some say it’s an unstoppable force, as companies continue their hunt for the company that gives the most bang for their buck. In manufacturing, that often translates to the cheapest labor that can meet or exceed required quality standards. Others have said fuel costs have changed the math behind the global supply chain. As the economy emerges from recession, fuel costs are sure to rise, and once they do, outsourcing certain work to factories across the ocean won’t make as much sense as it once did. Still others argue that lean manufacturing, the new norm, forces the supply chain to react just in time, and it can’t do this if it has to ship large parts across an ocean.
This is all just math, though—measurements of money and time—and I’ve got a feeling that it’s not the real reason that so many are so passionate. I think it’s more about our view of labor. In manufacturing, labor has turned into a bad word. Managers succeed in part by reducing the labor content within the parts they produce. The less labor it takes to make something, the better. (Even the phrase labor content is a bit dehumanizing.)
No wonder manufacturing has trouble attracting skilled workers. What budding skilled tradesperson, one who has a passion for the attributes of hands-on metalworking, would want to join an industry that has given the word labor such a bad name?