Americans View Manufacturing as Key to Economic Prosperity, But...

... see government policies creating a disadvantage for manufacturing sector, according to Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Labor Day Survey

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New York — September 10, 2010 — Americans are expressing faith in the country's workforce but are concerned that government policies may be putting the manufacturing sector at a disadvantage and dissuading Americans from pursuing production jobs, according to a recent survey from consulting firm Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.

The second annual "Public Viewpoint on Manufacturing" survey, released on the eve of Labor Day by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, indicates that 78 percent of Americans have a strong view of the significance of manufacturing, seeing it as very important to the country's economic prosperity. A similar number of respondents, 76 percent, indicate that manufacturing is very important to the standard of living in the United States.

Further, the public believes that the American worker is ready and able to participate in a healthy manufacturing sector. When asked to select from a list of 21 attributes that make American manufacturing globally competitive, respondents identified the top three as: work ethic, skilled workforce and productivity — well ahead of non-workforce related attributes like infrastructure and natural resources.

Respondents also looked at the attributes that give the United States an advantage over other nations — again naming our skilled workforce as a top attribute alongside technology, and research and development capabilities.

Attributes Behind U.S. Competitiveness as Ranked by Survey Respondents:

Most Important Attributes to U.S. Competitiveness Attributes Providing U.S. With Biggest Advantage Attributes Causing the Most Concern
Work ethic Technology use & availability State & federal leadership
Skilled workforce Skilled workforce Tax rates on individuals
Productivity R & D capabilities Government business policies

Copyright 2010 Deloitte Development LLC and The Manufacturing Institute

"Surprisingly Enthusiastic"

"Clearly, the public believes in the importance of manufacturing and the talent of the American worker," said Craig Giffi, vice chairman and Deloitte's consumer and industrial products industry leader in the United States. "These findings fly in the face of the commonly held sentiment that Americans no longer have faith in manufacturing and that the workforce has lost its ability to compete with other parts of the world when it comes to making things. In point of fact, the public has plenty of faith in the American worker, as well as our technology and research capabilities."

Giffi also notes that the public is surprisingly enthusiastic about charting a course that will ensure the manufacturing industry's future, citing the fact that 75 percent of survey respondents believe that the United States needs a more strategic approach to developing its manufacturing base. Moreover, he observes roughly the same percentage believe the country should invest more in the manufacturing industry, while 68 percent believe developing a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority.

"So, why aren't American workers going into manufacturing?" asks Giffi. He says that the answer can be found in the survey results, which indicate that respondents are insecure about the future health of the manufacturing industry: 55 percent think the long term outlook for American manufacturing is weaker than today, and only 30 percent of respondents would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.

The survey shows that this trepidation is tied directly to concerns over government policies. Respondents consistently identified government-related factors as the biggest obstacles to the success of manufacturing in the United States; specifically policies relating to business, tax rates on individuals, and both state and federal leadership in this area.

"Futuristic" Manufacturing

Emily DeRocco, president of The Manufacturing Institute, points out that the public's concerns about manufacturing "do not lie in a poor image of what the jobs are like, as many people seem to think." She explains that the majority of survey respondents, in fact, see manufacturing as futuristic. "When asked if manufacturing is high-tech, 63 percent of respondents strongly agree or agree, and the same amount strongly agree or agree that it requires well-educated, highly skilled workers," DeRocco said.

She added: "The public seems to be getting over its negative view of manufacturing as being dirty and dangerous work for unskilled laborers. What the public needs now is stability and certainty from policy makers. Without that, the public cannot commit itself to a manufacturing renaissance in the United States."

DeRocco sums up the survey by explaining that if the public does not think there is a national manufacturing direction, people are not likely to pursue jobs in the sector or support the construction of new plants in their communities.

Further, she says that it is hard to imagine a moment in recent history when it has been so important to take advantage of the public's faith in the workforce by investing in training and educating the workers of the future — largely because the industry has taken some serious blows in the wake of the global recession, losing two million manufacturing jobs as a direct result of the economic meltdown.

"The bottom line," says DeRocco, "is that we must reconcile America's belief in the prowess of our workforce with its concerns about policy disadvantages — or we could face discouraging reports for many Labor Days to come."

The survey report is available for download as a PDF here.