劳动力不是万能的——美国全新生态系统重振制造业

上网时间: 2012年03月26日? 作者:George Leopold? 我来评论 【字号: ? ?小】

关键字:美国制造业? 制造业生态系统?

Manufacturing by design: New skills needed to compete

George Leopold

OXON HILL Md. – Reviving U.S. manufacturing has emerged as such a hot election-year issue that an entire afternoon of an energy technology conference was devoted to the barriers to domestic manufacturing and obstacles to retraining the U.S. manufacturing workforce.

Those new workers will require design skills that are integral to modern manufacturing along with “soft skills” like critical thinking, leadership and collaborative abilities, experts agreed during an Energy Department conference this week across the Potomac River from Washington.

Corporate executives, educators, current and former bureaucrats and an ex-congressman all weighed in on the erosion of the American manufacturing base and how to return it to global competitiveness. Most argued that labor costs and energy usage aren’t the key barriers; what is needed is a revival of flexible, design-driven manufacturing and a new, modular approach to training the next generation of machinists, engineers and technical managers.

Throughout the preceding two centuries, the U.S. led the world in deploying disruptive technologies ranging from railroads and the telegraph to an electrical grid and communications networks. No more, argued market researcher Stefan Heck of McKinsey & Co. “Where we are lacking is the guts to deploy new technologies.”

Heck’s use of the word “guts” refers not only to the infrastructure needed to roll out new technologies by the willingness to take risks in order to reap the benefits of new energy and other innovations. He argued that much of the semiconductor industry has left the U.S. not because of labor costs - which account for only about 2 percent of the chip production costs - but because most U.S. chip makers “haven’t been willing to make the investment” in the capital equipment needed to operate advanced chips plants.

Heck, who worked closely with global chip companies before shifting his focus to cleantech, was among a range of experts addressing manufacturing and workforce issues during an Energy Department summit sponsored by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy. Leo Christodoulou, program manager for DoE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, noted that manufacturing currently accounts for 11 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, employs about 12 U.S. million workers and about 60 percent of U.S. scientists and engineers work in manufacturing-related fields.

Factory floor skills must be augmented by design expertise.

The Energy Department office is looking for ways to promote manufacturing clusters that leverage the local and regional characteristics of U.S. manufacturing (durable goods in the Midwest, high-tech in the Southwest). Further, Christodoulou’s office is attempting to identify the “keystone, foundational technologies” that the U.S. can exploit to revive manufacturing. Two, he noted, are a superior communications infrastructure and first-rate universities.

Identifying and developing new materials and manufacturing methods are among the next steps in forming regional and state clusters focused on value-added manufacturing, he added. Together, these advances could help transform American manufacturing into an agile, design-driven sector capable of thriving in a global technology competition that places a premium on being the first to deliver innovative products.

With labor-intensive manufacturing unlikely to return to the U.S., McKinsey’s Heck argued: “What we have to shift to is the kind of manufacturing that involves technology, involves automation, involves engineering skill sets, involves more complicated kinds of tasks…things that actually require design, require looking at 3-D CAD drawings, require particular skills to make sure the quality is high.” He offered as examples jet and rocket engines, products that are not only strategically important but require precise tolerances, very exact machining and control of temperature cycles during design and manufacturing.

Manufacturing ecosystems

Christine Furstoss of General Electric’s Global Research Center called for integrating more small and medium-sized manufacturers into industry supply chains since a manufacturing revival “will require a new kind of ecosystem.” A greater focus in new approaches like “additive manufacturing” using thin-film deposition, for example, will help in scaling up a new manufacturing ecosystem, Furstoss said.

“Today, we’re very sequential” in how products are manufactured,” she added. “We need to change that paradigm to make it a non-sequential process.”

Other corporate executives here like Boeing Research and Technology’s Matthew Ganz acknowledged that the aircraft maker has been “hindered” by separating its design and manufacturing operations. Boeing is now in the process of reuniting design and manufacturing while promoting younger engineers with strong design skills. “We grab them by the arm and pull them up the [organizational] chart,” Ganz stressed.

‘Stackable credentials’

The other part of the manufacturing equation is educating a new generation of skilled workers capable of driving a design-oriented manufacturing sector. An “all-hands-on-deck” approach that links companies, trade unions and community colleges is seen as one of the best approaches to reinvigorating the sector, corporate executives and educators agreed.

Community colleges “have been excellent partners and a critical cog” in training the next generation of manufacturing workers, said Carrie Houtman, public policy manager at Dow Chemical Co. Dow CEO Andrew Liveris along with MIT President Susan Hockfield head an Advanced Manufacturing Partnership unveiled by the White House last June.

A new approach to training manufacturing workers called “stackable credentials” is being pioneered by California’s community college system. Van Ton-Quinlivan, the system’s vice chancellor for workforce development, described the approach as earning course certificates that can be “stacked” in order meet manufacturer’s requirements for new employees. Each stack represents an individual skill.

For example, Ton-Quinlivan explained, an engineering student hoping to work in the energy technology market could gain both pre- and post-sales certificates, allowing the newly minted engineer to implement an energy program that a company has just sold. The modular education and training program is designed to provide students with the skills employers want now, while allowing students to “stack” other courses that would lead to undergraduate or graduate degrees.

The California official also put the onus on manufacturers to play a more active role in training future workers. She said community colleges are motivated to deliver the skills companies need, but companies must be more specific about what required and desired skills they are seeking in new employees.

Responding to widespread complaints here about regulatory red tape and the lack of tax incentives needed to promote manufacturing, the former chairman of the House Science Committee said the revival of U.S. manufacturing ultimately comes down to training more skilled workers. “You can have all the tax and regulatory reform you want,” Bart Gordon told an audience of technology company executives, “but you still have to have a skilled workforce” to compete in global markets.


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