Supply Chain Matters joined over three hundred attendees for the The Future of U.S. Manufacturing Conference, jointly sponsored by the MIT Leaders for Global Operations, MIT Industrial Liaison Program, and MIT Forum for Supply Chain Innovation In our previous Dispatch One commentary, we provided some initial impressions from the first day of the conference. In this commentary, we highlight day two as well as some important takeaways.

Last evening, upon reviewing our notes from day one of the conference, it was a bit difficult to synthesize some overarching themes and messages emanating from the many presentations.  In day two, the themes became clearer.

The morning began with remarks from MIT President Susan Hockfield, who reminded the audience  that manufacturing represents over 12 million jobs for the U.S. and that manufacturing companies employ two-thirds of scientists and engineers in the economy.  She also provided a reminder that when MIT was founded in 1861, its initial mission was to speed the industrialization of the U.S.. That mission has morphed to global perspectives, but at the same time, MIT has recognized its role to help in the current research related to the new importance and required competitive capabilities of U.S. based manufacturing.

Ms. Hockfield than introduced U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson, who spoke to the critical importance of the upcoming recommendations related to the President’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) of which MIT is among a small group of premier academic institutions contributing to this initiative.  Secretary Bryson highlighted three important areas that will be addressed in the first report of AMP:

  • Improving the business climate for manufacturing companies
  • Improving the talent pipeline for required manufacturing skills and talent recruitment
  • Enabling further innovation within manufacturing.

The Secretary also reminded the audience that manufacturing economy has helped to lead the U.S. out of global recession, accounting for over a half million jobs.  That may be interpreted by some as a political statement in a Presidential election year, but none the less, it is a profound statement that reinforces the fact that the U.S. needs to refocus on moving toward a broader based manufacturing economy. The Secretary also added that Washington does not have all the answers, and that it must continue to look to partnerships of private industry, labor and academia to provide recommendations and roadmaps.

Cindy Estrada, Vice President of the United Auto Workers provided a passionate but eloquent perspective on the changing role and voice of unions in this ongoing dialogue. She thanked the conference organizers for inviting labor to overall discourse and reminded the audience on the actions and collaboration that the UAW played prior to and during the 2008-2009  auto crisis in the U.S..  Ms. Estrada also reminded the audience on the overall negative impressions that unions seem to have in media and business reporting, and that actions of the past are not necessarily reflections of today and the future. Her statement was that unions seek a level playing field, not just in fair wages and benefits, but collaboration and voice from the shop floor.  Her most profound statement, which we tweeted, was that you cannot have a legitimate conversation regarding the future of manufacturing without worker input regarding eliminating waste, improving quality or fostering more process innovation. We would add, union and non-union. That statement was later reinforced by Diana Tremblay, Global Chief Manufacturing Officer of General Motors who provided some praise for the new collaborative actions of UAW members in identifying and helping to solve manufacturing related problems.  A sobering reminder was Ms. Estrada’s observations that much additional work remains within the automotive value-chain where some suppliers have yet to reach beyond previous management and labor behaviors of obstructing worker participation in joint problem-solving.

There was an outstanding presentation delivered  by Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis on the defining moment on the future of manufacturing in the U.S., which outlined  some rather significant manufacturing process investments not only being made in the U.S., but also on some potentially game-changing joint research with MIT on transforming pharmaceutical manufacturing from previous specialty batch to a more innovative and far less costly,  continuous manufacturing process.

Another significant highlight was a panel discussion focused on workforce of the future, moderated by William Green, Executive Chairmen of Accenture.  The panelists were:

  • Diana Tremblay of General Motors
  • Cindy Estrada of the UAW
  • Denise Johnson of Caterpillar
  • Professor Thomas Kochan, Co-Director, Institute for Work and Employment Research, MIT Sloan School of Management.

These panelists provided many insights on what may be required to fill the requirements of an entirely different skilled manufacturing workforce, on the complementary needs for joint leadership skills among manufacturing managers, and how to get younger people from the K-12 to the community college level far more attracted to a career in manufacturing. The panelists observed that the current perceptions of manufacturing among younger people is sometimes reflected in negative connotations of being a non-rewarded occupation in a sometimes dirty environment that requires long hours that begin early in the morning. Professor Kochan reminded to the realities of current data indicating that the U.S. needs 20 million jobs just to return to post-recession levels, and that 5-7 million of these jobs have to be contributed from the manufacturing sector. This requires political will and commitment to make the necessary investments in programs and initiatives and better alignment of all stakeholder groups.

This concludes our commentary of day two of this important and timely conference.  Our final commentary will reflect on our view of the key takeaways that both the conference and audience dialogue brought forward.

Bob Ferrari