Why The Jobs Left

There's a great article on the Technology Review website by Mark Muro of the Brookings Institute titled, "Manufacturing Jobs Aren't Coming Back".  The gist of it is that automation, not trade, led to the loss of many manufacturing jobs.  One graphic pretty much says it all:


The one fallacy in this article is that just because these jobs aren't here now, they couldn't be here in the future.  Proportionately, more than twice as many people in Germany work in manufacturing as in America, and the wages of manufacturing workers in Germany and other Northern European countries are about 20 percent higher than ours.  

We give up on manufacturing because we assume that we can't replace the old low-skill jobs in which people were essentially part of the machinery of the assembly line, human robots that did things robots could not.  What we miss is the possibility of what we could have if we had a much more better educated and trained workforce, one not necessarily with more college graduates, but with better problem-solving skills; the ability to program, run and maintain machinery; and the writing skills to record events so that those coming on shift know what to do next, much as Apple workers on the support lines do with job logs today.  All this requires a much more pragmatic approach to learning, one in which "engagement" and "application" are the two most important words of education.  Until our workers can even begin to compete with those in Singapore, more and more of our workers are going to be sliding burgers at McDonalds.