Preparing for the Third Industial Revolution

Let me get right to the point, OK?

If you’re not one of those who believe, as I do, what was outlined so compellingly in a recent issue of The Economist – namely, that the industrialized world is on the verge of that the magazine calls “the third industrial revolution” – you might want to consider taking off the blinders and playing a little catch-up.

And given the fact that digital manufacturing and any number of next-generation technologies, combined with the ongoing globalization of the marketplace, are in the process of causing a seismic shift in manufacturing in this country and beyond – but especially in this country – I want to offer three things the United States needs to do to prepare for a revolution that promises to be a social, cultural and ultimately economic game-changer.

Granted, as anyone who has read this blog with any level of regularity will attest, these are not new ideas and I’ve been on the soapbox about them for years.  But they are critical.  They are needed.  And they are suggestions that should be heeded by everyone from the top level CEO and the small, independent machine shop-owner to the hourly factory worker, the out-of-work or under-employed craftsman, and the still wide-eyed and hopeful student. 

They are three things we need to do to prepare for the third industrial revolution. Here they are in a nutshell, along with a description of why they’re vitally important.

Re-Define Manufacturing
For years manufacturing was not only considered blue-collar and often mindless work, it was viewed as dirty to the point of filthy and full of professional and career dead-ends.

Manufacturing in the digital world will be anything but.  Digital manufacturing will be clean, exciting and full of opportunities.  And it will require of its employees more than merely showing up. It will require thought, imagination and insight.  And, unlike many of the factory jobs that were off-shored out of this country over the past few decades, it will require the highest level skills and comprehensive professional training.

What America needs – and I kid you not when I say this – is a multi-million dollar national ad campaign, not unlike the one the medical community embarked upon when it first alerted the general public about the dangers of smoking, or the one the pork producers rolled out when they, against all odds, somehow transformed their product into “the other white meat.”

Manufacturing needs to be made something it’s not been in over a century:  sexy.

Re-Commit to Our Schools
At this time a hundred years ago public schools throughout the country were teaching students to prepare for what was then being called “the second industrial revolution.”  Back then a job in a mega-factory like Ford or U.S. Steel meant a livelihood.  It meant stability and it meant hope for the future. 

Well, many of the behemoth companies of the 20th Century are still around.  In the years since, however, they have taken on a leaner, more nimble approach to operations.  And as a result many now present their workers a different kind of opportunity and an entirely new kind of hope. 

What’s more, unlike generations past, they demand skills they never did before.  And, unlike their previous incarnations, they’re no longer hiring workers randomly and by the busload. They’re hiring at levels consistent with their needs, and they’re hiring those with clearly defined skills and talents.  

As a result, schools today need to start re-thinking their entire attitude toward manufacturing.   And up and down the educational food chain, teachers and administrators alike need to understand the role manufacturing-friendly skills like engineering, math, science, computer competency and machine tooling are starting to play in a young person’s career choices. 

And because of that, we as a people need to fully re-dedicate ourselves to education, and not just at the high school and trade school level, but at the very highest levels of learning. 

Because in the years ahead manufacturing in this country will not merely be a renaissance. It will be an explosion.  And economically it will demand a full soup-to-nuts level of performance on our part. 

That’s why educators have to get on the ball.  Because the sooner our schools start to realize that manufacturing is the future, the better served kids will be.  And the sooner the rest of us learn that manufacturing, even today, is no longer merely about product innovation and product breakthroughs, but product design, product rollout and product deployment, the better off we’ll all be.

Don’t believe me?  Check out the video I embedded in last week’s blog and see for yourself how job training, a re-dedication to education and a broad-based commitment to manufacturing skill development can bring hope to even the smallest and most depressed American town.

Think Globally
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times:  We have to stop worrying about jobs and start worrying about exports.  Because if this country becomes, once again, the leading exporter in the world, job growth will be a natural byproduct.  We take care of our exports, trust me; our exports will take care of everything else.

Sure, it’s more politically prudent and far more inflammatory to talk about creating jobs and droning on and on about things being “Made in America.” 

But those are just words.  You want this country to matter like it never has before?  Watch what happens if we re-dedicate ourselves to selling others more than we import.  Watch what happens if we make it something of a nation-wide mantra to sell as many goods, services and manifestations of intellectual property as humanly possible, and make it a point to target the booming middle classes that are now forming in places like China, India and Brazil.

We do that, and combine that commitment with the promise of digital manufacturing and the “third industrial revolution” and I promise you; you will never, ever hear some blowhard behind a podium talking about creating jobs ever again.  Because they’ll already be here.

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