Here's what a BIG gap between manufacturing and reality looks like

Here’s a report painting a VERY incomplete picture of “what a manufacturing skills gap of more than 2 million people will look like”.

Here's what a BIG gap between manufacturing and reality looks like /img/manufacturing-job2horizontal.jpg
2 million jobs due to... natural growth


The main thesis of “Here’s what a manufacturing skills gap of more than 2 million people will look like” is that “There will be 4.6 million new manufacturing jobs in the US to fill between 2018 and 2028, but… 2.4 million of them are predicted to go empty.

Those 4.6 millions jobs would be due to:

  1. replacement, i.e. ~2.7 millions baby boomers currently working in the industry, but expected to retire over the next 10 years.
  2. ~2 million new jobs that “will come from natural growth. As the US expands its specialized manufacturing industry, more people will be needed to support the development”

The authors of the reports and its summary are worried because “there aren’t enough workers ready to take on these new roles” and, due to the ever increasing skill levels involved, it already takes an average of 93 days to fill those roles, compared to 70 in 2015.

Consequently, the report recommends that businesses (and, indirectly, policy makers and schools) change and invest now, least they “pay the price 10 years down the line”, by doing things like, to name a few:

  • outsorcing (surprise!)
  • raising wages (albeit it may put
  • relax hiring requirements
  • hire retired workers for short-term projects
  • try new (online) ways to “develop and retain talent”

What the report doesn’t say

At first sight, this report may seem just one more confirmation that any claim that this wave of digitally enhanced disruption “creates more jobs than it destroys” is a pipe dream. This is not going to happen. Not if by “jobs” we mean enough useable jobs, that is:

“enough jobs that the majority of people who will be fired in the next 5 or 10 years will be able get, with the kind of new skills they could realistically get before going homeless”.

No way. No “industry 4.0” relabeling can turn such a fantasy into reality.

And that is not even the biggest problem. Which is the one hidden in plain sight right into the “natural growth” part. That report is not about tourism, software development, financial services or other (theoretically!) “immaterial” sectors of the economy. It is about the manufacturing industry, that is “transforming physical raw materials (from recycling or mines, it doesn’t matter) into products”.

The only way to create more jobs in manufacturing is to make more physical stuff, be it bridges or Internet-connected toothbrushes. That is to somehow find, process, use…

  • (much!) more raw materials than today
  • enough affordable energy to process them (unless the idea is to rely on manual labour, of course, or somebody invents cold fusion for real tomorrow)

“Global warming be damned, full speed ahead”? OK, but…

It seems to me that any prediction of shortages in manufacturing jobs completely ignores the fact that there simply cannot be enough consumption of both energy and raw resources to create those jobs shortages. On one hand, the current scientific consensus on global warming should be enough to consider millions of high-skills, highly automated, “specialized manufacturing” jobs as simply not in line with reality: “Dress it up however we may wish, climate change is ultimately a rationing issue”. If that analysis is right, the “rationing” word alone makes that entire report on jobs shortages worthless.

Let’s just find the raw STUFF to feed the industry then

But never mind climate change. Even if we all went “global warming be damned, full speed ahead”, we’d still have to face the reality that enough raw, or recyclables resources to create such job shortages may simply not exist. That report seem to completely ignore, for example, that:

OK, so what?

I do not have real answers to share now. This said, it seems evident to me that predictions on massive jobs shortages, or in general any proposal of massive retraining to compensate for technological unemployment, simply and completely ignore the issues mentioned in all the other reports and commentaries I linked here.

Personally, taking those issues into account makes me feel that, regardless of my own opinions about it, a real Universal Basic Income may just be much realistic, and simpler to implement than any belief or plan to first achieve, and then fix, a “4.6 million shortage” in manufacturing jobs in the US alone.

Maybe I’m completely wrong on this. OK. Still, it is depressing to see reports and advice that simply, completely ignore certain issues, and are built only on “continued growth of US manufacturing GDP in the coming decade” (source).