American manufacturing has an image problem. Many potential workers don’t want to go near it because they think it’s dirty work. They also worry about job security, remembering outsourcing and plant closures. Now that manufacturing is having something of a comeback in this country, its bad image threatens to block it from getting the talented workers it needs to grow.
Industry efforts to change that image were on display in Hartford recently, where the Mfg4 convention took place. The scene is largely polo and khaki-wearing dudes networking and checking out machines. But those who gazed lower, noticed a sizable contingent of much smaller conference-goers.
Young students were there on a field trip. Among them was sixth grader Isabella Galm. Asked what she thought manufacturing was, she gave an answer that won’t thrill the industry: “Um, boring stuff, like making clothes and stuff,” she ventured.
She’s in a magnet school engineering class, the kind of brain the industry needs. So manufacturers are starting young, hoping tech-savvy students who get an early close-up look might consider it as a career, and take the math and science classes they’ll need to get started in it.
“We encourage manufacturers to open up their doors,” says Debbie Holton, managing director of SME, the manufacturing group that puts on this convention.
The students get access to the whole convention floor and are wowed by the whirring robots, lasers and 3D printers. Their day includes a visit to TRUMPF, an industrial laser plant not far from the convention site. Students get a kick out of the light show as a superfast machine sears a pattern into metal.
The industry says it just needs to get people inside its facilities so it can show them that modern American factories are clean and safe, not the grimy assembly lines of the past.
“A lot of people, it seems to me, still have pictures out of history books in their minds when it comes to manufacturing,” says TRUMPF machine assembly manager Annette Doyle.
The tour seems to be a hit, with students pushing past each other to get a closer look at all the high-tech equipment. They also ask questions, without prodding from their teachers.
Manufacturing also has another image problem. It was among the topics on the table at a recent strategy meeting of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. The group, a collaboration between industry and labor, is headquartered in Washington, where office managers work to ensure furniture is American made. The group’s thinking is that the image of manufacturing as dirty or dangerous isn’t the biggest problem. Its polling shows a more pressing image issue is job insecurity.
“The kids I talk to are not dumb,” says AAM president Scott Paul. “They have seen waves of manufacturing layoffs including, in many circumstances, some of their parents.”
Some 6 million U.S. manufacturing jobs disappeared between 2000 and 2010. Only half a million new ones have come back since. Robot laser show-and-tells won’t work if folks don’t believe those jobs will stay and more are coming.
As for the young student Isabella Galm, a full day of high-tech has clearly changed her view of manufacturing.
“I think it’s basically the future,” Galm says as she prepares to board her school bus.
That’s one young mind changed. But if manufacturers expect to have a future workforce, they’ll need a lot more converts.
Mark Garrison: The Mfg4 convention in Hartford is mostly dudes in polos and khakis, networking, checking out machines.
But gaze lower and you’ll notice smaller conference-goers.
Young students are here on a field trip. Here’s sixth grader Isabella Galm’s (GAHLMS) idea of manufacturing.
Isabella Galm: Um, boring stuff, like making clothes and stuff.
She’s in a magnet school engineering class. Debbie Holton, of the manufacturing group SME, wants tech-savvy young people like her to get a different view.
Holton: We encourage manufacturers to open up their doors.
The students’ day includes a visit to TRUMPF, a nearby industrial laser plant. They get a kick out of the light show as a superfast machine sears a pattern into metal.
TRUMPF manager Annette Doyle says she just needs to get people inside and show them that modern American factories are clean and safe, not the grimy assembly lines of the past.
Annette Doyle: A lot of people, it seems to me, still have pictures out of history books in their minds when it comes to manufacturing.
But manufacturing has another image problem. Alliance for American Manufacturing president Scott Paul believes the more pressing image issue is job insecurity.
Scott Paul: The kids I talk to are not dumb. I mean, they have seen waves of manufacturing layoffs including, in many circumstances, some of their parents.
Some six million U.S. manufacturing jobs disappeared last decade. Only half a million new ones have come back since. Robot laser show-and-tells won’t work if folks don’t believe the comeback is real.
After a full day of high-tech, Isabella Galm boards her school bus with a new view of manufacturing.
Galm: (What do you think it is now?) I think it’s basically the future.
Ok, one down. But manufacturers will need a lot more converts. In Connecticut, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.
One of the most vocal supporters of Network Neutrality, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota recently spoke about the issue in even starker terms, calling the fight over net neutrality the "Free Speech Issue of Our Time."
Sen. Franken argues that if given the chance to monopolize access to higher speed, large corporations will dominate the internet, which up to this point has been an equal opportunity space. It's why he and fellow Net Neutrality believers argue that internet providers should be reclassified as "common carriers," subject to the same restrictions as other public utilities.
With FCC chair Tom Wheeler reportedly playing around with the idea of an internet "fast lane," Sen. Franken says he would most likely work on counter legislation if, in fact, the FCC moves forward with the idea. He believes that at the end of the day, the idea of providing faster service for those who can pay infringes on the constitutional rights of American citizens.
"You want someone’s individual blog to travel as fast as the New York Times. It’s a first amendment issue. That should be non-partisan."
Chinese authorities have accused a foreign executive with British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline of ordering his subordinates to bribe Chinese doctors in order to boost the company’s drug sales in China.
China’s government will now prosecute Mark Reilly, the foreign executive for GSK for bribery. For the Chinese government to go after a non-ethnic Chinese foreign executive is unprecedented and in this case, the executive in question - Mark Reilly - returned to China from his home in the UK to assist with the police investigation.
According to Jim McGregor, author of "One Billion Customers," Chinese leader Xi Jinping is doing his best to show his country that the Party will root out corruption. Part of that strategy, says McGregor, is to go after foreign companies.
“When China has troubles and they want to clean up an industry or stop certain practices, they’ll usually go after the foreign companies because they’re not connected politically like a state-owned company who is connected to all kinds of people and it’s very complicated to go after them because you affect a whole network of people, so foreign companies are more of a free-fire zone,” says McGregor.
The move has long-time China hands like McGregor asking: If China's government plans to charge GSK with giving millions of dollars' worth of bribes in China, what does it plan to do about the Chinese officials and doctors who were allegedly on the other side of the bribes?
World's Fairs still exist, but just two cities bid to host the 2017 Expo. In contrast, seven U.S. cities are vying for the 2024 Olympics, and the games just signed a $7.75 billion deal with NBC.
Minors can't buy cigarettes in the U.S., but they can farm tobacco. A new Human Rights Watch report says the practice is hazardous; cigarette makers say there are some safe roles for kids on farms.
A Cleveland catalog company says jumps in insurance costs may force it to stop offering a group health plan to its 700 workers. But first, the firm is pushing for healthier habits among employees.
China's fast-growing armed forces face increased scrutiny over how they are spending what is now the world's second-largest military budget.
In a city notorious for its murder rate, more than 90 percent of victims are black. To help break the cycle, police are testing a new approach: trying to win the hearts and minds of middle-schoolers.
Here's what I want to know: When did it become August and I missed it?
I mean, yes, there've been a few things happening business- and economy-wise since Monday, but honestly, it's been kind of slow. Sitting here early in May, you'd just think there'd be... more, you know?
So with that, a couple of themes and/or trends I've got my eye on:
- I know I say this on the air all the time, but I'm constantly amazed by how enduring the effects of the financial crisis are. To wit, the announcement Tuesday by Mel Watt, the head of the FHFA, that he's going to make sure there's still plenty of liquidity – money – in the mortgage system. We'll see whether that's a smart idea or not, but it's yet another sign it ain't over yet. See also: Geithner, Tim and his new book, about which you heard... well... elsewhere on public radio.
- Bigger really is better. The Wall Street Journal's been all over this, but apparently AT&T wants to buy DirecTV for $50 billion, in part to keep pace with the Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal. Roll that in with the still-burbling Pfizer/Astra Zeneca talks over in London – at $106 billion, if you can believe that – and I think it spells M&A boom.
- Pay no attention to the stock market. That is all.
Special bonus thing: Last week I was talking about going out in Jim Fallows' plane for another installment of the project we've got going with him – American Futures. He flies a Cirrus SR-22, for reasons that'll become clear in about three sentences. Anyway, Jim came and picked me up in Birmingham, Alabama, and flew us back over to Columbus, Mississippi. Nice easy flight, if a little bumpy. But that's not what I wanted to mention. Two days after I got back to Los Angeles, Jim posted this on his blog at the Atlantic. Crazy, huh?
The radio story – about Columbus, Mississippi, and what we found there (not about planes parachuting safely to earth) is set to air next week.
Pvt. Chelsea Manning, formerly named Bradley, was convicted of sending classified documents to WikiLeaks. The soldier has asked for hormone therapy and to be able to live as a woman.
AT&T is reportedly close to making an offer to buy DirecTV in a deal that would value the satellite dish TV operator at nearly $50 billion.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
"A deal could boost the flow of cash that AT&T could use to pay its dividend and fund a build out of its broadband Internet infrastructure, analysts have said. It also comes as AT&T increasingly views video—whether via pay TV service or delivered over the Web or its wireless network—as central to its future.
Adding satellite TV capabilities also could allow AT&T to free up valuable bandwidth on its Internet connections to customer homes."
The possible merger has us thinking about the history of media consolidation: