LOS ANGELES — Americans recognize manufacturing’s importance to the U.S. economy. They’re just not crazy about working in manufacturing themselves or having their kids do so.
In a survey conducted by The Manufacturing Institute, 86 percent of respondents said the country’s manufacturing base is "important" or "very important" to their standard of living, according to the nonprofit affiliate of the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers.
Institute president Emily Stover DeRocco said its third "Public Viewpoint on Manufacturing" survey showed "remarkably consistent" opinions on manufacturing’s importance, with 79 percent of Americans agreeing that a strong U.S. manufacturing base should be a national priority. But more than two-thirds said that current government policies have either a "neutral" or "negative" impact toward this goal.
Manufacturing ranked first among the businesses that respondents think would be likely to create 1,000 new jobs in their communities. However, DeRocco acknowledged an "unfortunate disconnect" between Americans who want to see manufacturing jobs in their communities and "pursuing those very job opportunities for themselves"—or for their children.
Only about one-third of parents said they would encourage their children to go into manufacturing, a response that DeRocco called "a major work force pipeline issue," particularly in light of looming retirements among the baby-boom generation.
Moreover, when respondents were asked which field they would choose if starting their careers today, manufacturing ranked just fifth out of seven occupations. "Americans want more manufacturing jobs," said DeRocco during a news conference. "Unfortunately, they want those jobs for someone else."
Only about 17 percent of the people contacted said their parents encouraged them to enter manufacturing, and DeRocco said it’s clear that the public is still concerned about these jobs "moving to other countries," raising doubt about their value as long-term careers.
Moreover, in a series of questions relating to the overall importance of manufacturing to the U.S. economy and the country’s security, 18- to 24-year-olds consistently ranked its importance lower than their elders did. One of the most glaring discrepancies: Only 39 percent of the younger group agreed that "Manufacturing careers are both interesting and rewarding," compared with 59 percent of all respondents.
Another potentially worrying result was that only 48 percent of respondents agreed that "international trade creates jobs." DeRocco said that while Americans support the idea of increased exports, there remain "lingering questions" among the general public about the impact of globalization on the economy and manufacturing jobs going overseas.
When it comes to how American steel producers and other raw materials suppliers relate to the goal of promoting U.S. manufacturing, she said that while manufacturers compete in a global market and are part of a "global supply chain with global sources," it’s obviously much more effective in terms of energy, transportation and other costs to source material "close to the manufacturing production enterprise."