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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Foster the people: Emphasis is on keeping high-skill jobs in the US

MIT News
Oct 31, 2011

Rebuilding American manufacturing is possible — but will require new ideas about turning lab breakthroughs into new products and a refurbished, highly skilled workforce, a group of scholars, industry leaders and government officials emphasized at an MIT conference Thursday and Friday.

“The U.S. continues to be very innovative, but somehow downstream there seems to be a break,” said Olivier de Weck, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, and executive director of the ongoing MIT Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE) study group, which is analyzing the state of American manufacturing.

That is, while many observers still find the condition of lab research in America to be robust, there seems to be a gap between the fundamental research being performed and the volume of technologies emerging as a result, a point noted by many participants during the conference — the sixth annual manufacturing summit held by MIT’s Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity.

For this reason, “we need to start thinking about manufacturing in a new way,” de Weck said. For instance, he noted, American manufacturing in the 21st century is more likely to involve advanced materials synthesized in labs than raw materials found in nature. But along with that evolution, as many at the event suggested, the United States needs to generate a greater supply of high-skill technical workers in new modes of manufacturing.

This reorientation may be necessary to help revive not only manufacturing, but also the larger economy and the job market. Manufacturing jobs now account for about 10 percent of U.S. employment, compared to about 30 percent of jobs in 1950. And while a much larger percentage of corporate profits now reside in the financial services sector, that shift has come at the same time as the country’s biggest economic slump since the 1930s.

“Pushing money around doesn’t create value,” said David Rowatt, a research director at the oilfield services firm Schlumberger. “We need to make stuff. That’s an important skill that we cannot lose as a country.”
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