Sometimes, when you work in the world of manufacturing, it can feel like you are living in a world that speaks its own language. This can be particularly true when you talk to companies in the machine tool industry, where conversations about boring machines, worm grinders, and robots are commonplace. However, keeping the pulse of this segment of America’s industrial world also offers a unique vantage point on all of the conversations revolving around jobs recovery in the United States.
To frame this conversation, reflect back on something President Obama said during last week’s Presidential debate. He said his economic plan was based on what Bill Clinton did during the 90s, and in the 90s we saw the creation of millions of new jobs. On the surface, this may seem like a common sense approach. If it worked before, it should work again. But consider everything that has changed since the 1990s. If you are not in the manufacturing world, you still know that social media has become a major force that was not around in those days. A single twitter account dedicated to customer service can assist people faster and more efficiently than a couple of people working in a call center, for example.
But then think about all of the advances that have happened outside of the realm of communication. Consider all of the automation that factories have adopted over the last few years. Touching a few buttons on a CNC controller can now program a machine to complete multiple operations automatically where part production used to require one or more people. A robot can load heavy metal tubes onto a conveyor belt (or unload them) faster than a person can and without the risk of injury. Thus, as manufacturing gets more and more automated, the number of manufacturing jobs is never going to return to what it was, even in a more robust recovery.
This is not to say that manufacturing has no need for humans anymore. As production at a factory increases you still need more people to assemble parts and machines. But increasingly, automation is taking the manufacturing world, and other industries, by storm.
What this means is that aiming for a jobs number from the 1990s may not be realistic. Expectations are lagging behind the new reality. Until economists and political leaders adjust objectives to adhere to the new world in which we live and work, jobs reports are likely to remain highly disappointing. This creates an endless cycle of disappointing reports, a bad day on the stock market, and more ripple effects that affect the rest of the economy.
What are you experiencing in your own world when it comes to jobs? Is your grocery store, like mine, now populated by more self-checkout counters than actual cashiers? Has your bank reduced the number of tellers they have on staff? Is your cable company using automated customer service? How is this new reality affecting your own life, and what do you think we can do to create more jobs in this new world?
We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bisgovuk/6234311534/ via Creative Commons