Great article in The Atlantic: “Making it in America” about the current state of manufacturing, and really does cover a lot of the core issues. Very well researched and written. The conclusions are also quite true: the answer isn’t getting more people on the factory floor - the robots are coming - the real thing is how we can get people educated enough to be able to do the next types of job coming.
Manufacturing really is the next agricultural for a massive transformation. Everyone knows that we’re a “service economy” now, but we still do a ton of manufacturing for it to be a major part of jobs and GDP. With service jobs split between minimum wage jobs without a future and high-end, high-education jobs like lawyers and surgeons - we’ve got a huge gap waiting to be filled by the jobs market. Unfortunately, it’s looking like the current educational system has completely failed us in moving towards this next system.
So what is this system? How can we really imagine what lies in the future of manufacturing, the economy and the American (not to mention everyone else’s) workforce? I was recently asked by some pro-manufacturing groups what I think the future of manufacturing looks like, and as much as I think about these things it was certainly a hard question to even begin to answer.
Being government related groups, they were all about what the “jobs of the future” will look like. It’s hard for me to say because my mission is to turn manufacturing into a commodity that is fully automated and has no need of humans other than to designs the files and specs that are required.
I think the article here is right to say that in the future you’ll need to know about computers, etc. to work in these fields, but they mean to program to CNC machines, etc. I don’t think this will be needed either. Things like tool-setting mentioned in the video are actually quite automatable, and doing live QC certainly is too. Really, we need to have more people able to turn ideas / opportunities into products: engineers, designers, programmers, etc.
Not of all of these require a 4 year degree or technical training, and I’d argue that the future of the workforce probably isn’t using this type of model at all. We’ve seen the commoditization of servers and software already, and the most thriving field right now are 1000’s of startups that were birthed out of these resources. The same can be true of manufacturing and other productive industries.
Just look at some of the indie cottage industries Etsy is helping bring forward. These all have in common that motivated people with regular skills can do them, and the manufacturing can be done in your living room. More complex products still have massive barriers to entry from the design, sourcing, etc. of their parts - hence why few people can make anything very compelling this way.
There are ways around this: Kickstarter can give you the cash for the manufacturing, but rumors are they have a high rate of launch failures due to noobing out on production. Also, you can look at sites like Ponoko and David Mellis’ research at the Media Lab that look a cottage industry approach to this type of manufacturing. Instead of trying to compete with Apple on quality and aesthetics, why not turn the laser-cut / simple materials look into it’s own kind of post-modern fashion - as compared to Apple’s high-modern minimalism.
To me, the trends are pretty clear: manufacturing is becoming faster, more agile, more automated, and cheap (without looking at raw materials). People are no longer useful unless they do something that computers can’t do - which more and more means interacting with the world of engineering / design which is really just the stack of disciplines that gets you from human wants (design) into what machines want (engineering) - it’s translation really. If you can’t do one of these, I don’t really see what you’re going to be doing in manufacturing once we stamp out these inefficiencies, and the task of manufacturing moves into the background as agriculture did in the previous century.