Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Rethinking manufacturing - and farming...

An outstanding article in the WaPo (as linked by Cat0@Liberty) reset my conviction we are on our way to very few manufacturing jobs in the US.
The United States makes more manufactured goods today than at any time in history, as measured by the dollar value of production adjusted for inflation -- three times as much as in the mid-1950s, the supposed heyday of American industry. Between 1977 and 2005, the value of American manufacturing swelled from $1.3 trillion to an all-time record $4.5 trillion, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States is responsible for almost one-fourth of global manufacturing, a share that has changed little in decades. The United States is the largest manufacturing economy by far. Japan, the only serious rival for that title, has been losing ground. China has been growing but represents only about one-tenth of world manufacturing. [More]
Color me surprised. I had acquired the hazy notion US factories were disappearing - not changing industries. The real problem is the same one facing much of our profession as well: the jobs with a future in the US are jobs requiring highly skilled workers.
During the most recent decade, U.S. manufacturing has become increasingly oriented toward the middle and upper ends of the value-added spectrum. Opportunities abound for workers with skills or the willingness and wherewithal to acquire them. In fact, the title of the National Association of Manufacturers tenth annual Labor Day Report on the state of U.S. manufacturing is “Rising Incomes Cushion Economy,” and its subtitle is “Finding Highly Skilled Workers Remains a Challenge for Manufacturers.” It seems to me that rising wages should make more workers willing to get the skills, and the need to find highly-skilled workers should induce manufacturers to assist on the wherewithal front.
We are pretty soft-spoken about educational standards or training requirements in agriculture. In fact, highly educated entrants into farming are often resented by colleagues as usurping a role that should be "reserved" for those who work hard and and possess more humble but admirable attributes. I mean, those guys could be doing hotshot jobs in the city, instead of displacing less qualified farmer wannabes. Indeed a significant number of present farmers are farming largely because they were not interested in educational challenge of occupations requiring degrees or other formal training.

Nevertheless, I believe developments like the human resource needs in manufacturing are being mirrored in agriculture. In addition, the subsequent quantum leap in capital management skills needed, wild volatility, and rapid adoption of technology combine to select for farmers with a much wider and deeper knowledge base and skill set. In fact, the current boom (Why didn't I grow some wheat this year?) could make farms capable of bidding for the fabled "best and brightest" along with other professions.

This sounds like a good idea until you realize we are becoming more intensely competitive at the same time. Having the "b & b" farm next to you is somewhat more sobering if you yourself are merely good and bright.

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