Manufacturing Day 2017: Over the last few years, organizations and companies around the country have celebrated Manufacturing Day on October 6. This celebration started out small and has grown substantially. A noteworthy event happening around the same time this year, was the appointment of Montez King as the Executive Director of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). King is an African American who grew up in poverty in West Baltimore. By accident, a little help from caring mentors, and smart choices, King is now a national leader and represents the commitment of the NIMS Board to send the message by example that the growth of our manufacturing sector must be profoundly linked to social inclusion—a great statement in light of the stubborn patterns of exclusion over the decades.
A Crisis in Inner Cities: Manufacturing Renaissance has been focused on community development and social justice since our founding. Our approach focuses on manufacturing because the growth of extreme poverty, particularly in the African American community is a direct product of de-industrialization as well as racial discrimination. With the loss of manufacturing jobs, communities of color have been unable to sustain their communities’ vitality. The crisis in the inner city reflected in poverty, unemployment—particularly among youth, incarceration, violence, and social exclusion continues to worsen. And the myriad of well-meaning but short-sighted programs and feckless public policies promulgated to address this challenge have been band-aids at best.
A Crisis in Manufacturing: Related is the crisis in manufacturing with the “skills gap”—thousands of jobs going unfilled because of the lack of qualified applicants even for entry level positions; and the “succession gap”—thousands of companies at risk because of the absence of a successor for a retiring owner of a manufacturing company. They are driven by the “grey tsunami” with millions of baby-boomers withdrawing from positions at all levels of the firm—particularly in production and ownership. Without a pool of talent and a new generation of owners, these companies will be unable to compete successfully in the global economy and thousands will close. These crises are existential for manufacturers and continue to worsen.
New Opportunities for Partnerships: This crisis creates an enormous opportunity for inner city communities to fill these jobs and prepare to acquire these companies. Inner-city youth can secure great careers in manufacturing if we upgrade our public education system. Black and Latino entrepreneurs that have historically been excluded from ownership of manufacturing firms can now become successors. These actions have no losers. Effective programs are not only in the interest of communities but are directly in the interest of manufacturers, labor, the development and investment community; local, regional, state and the federal government; and leaders across the political spectrum.
A Challenge and Opportunity for our Entire Society: We believe that inner city communities are the “canary in the coal mine” and suggest trends that will take place in most of our society. Those trends can be negative or positive. We believe that programs like Manufacturing Connect, the Ownership Conversion Project, and the Chicagoland Manufacturing Renaissance Council that have focused on the link between inner city communities and the manufacturing sector demonstrate the enormous potential for a partnership between the manufacturing sector and these communities. These prototypes can serve as a foundation for extending these same partnerships and programs to the rest of our society in much the same way that the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s had a profound impact in extending democracy and human rights in our entire society.
Industry & Inclusion 4.0: The challenge now is to take these and similar programs to scale. The skills and succession crisis facing the manufacturing sector is huge involving thousands of companies and thousands of jobs here in Illinois and across the nation. Programs that both meet the need of manufacturers and of communities need to be reflected in a new industrial policy that arms our elected officials with the framework they need to re-align our country to its manufacturing sector at a scale that solves the problems. This policy must reflect a total commitment to support technological innovation in manufacturing including the embrace of digitalization, robotics, and artificial intelligence so we remain globally competitive. Hence the reference to Industry 4.0—the name of the German industrial policy that is setting the standard for the international discussion on innovation. But we absolutely insist that the same level of resources and support are available for innovation in social inclusion and human development to ensure that our entire society benefits in the growth of manufacturing. Hence the reference to Inclusion 4.0. Traditionally, these two aspects have been seen as separate from each other. We can no longer afford that luxury. Now is the time to create Industry & Inclusion 4.0 and gain the support of policy leaders and elected officials at the local, state, and federal level.