Jim Vinoski for Forbes
Among the many weighty matters discussed at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, was the increasing need for reskilling – that is, providing training and education for new and different careers – of the world’s workforce, as jobs are changed or eliminated by advances in technology. The challenges, and a structured path forward, were laid out in an insight report that the WEF prepared in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group, “Towards a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All.”
Manufacturing is a sector in particular need of focus and action on this subject. This is so for two key reasons. First, as the report shows, production jobs are one of only two categories projected to suffer a net decline in overall numbers of jobs between now and 2026. The workers in those jobs will require help in transitioning to either different jobs in their existing companies, or completely new jobs with other firms. Second, with the main driver of those job eliminations being advances in manufacturing technology, there will be an accompanying increased need for skilled technicians in the industrial world.
For the first challenge, it’s really nothing new to have a decline in U.S. manufacturing employment, though it’s been a while since we last saw it. While for much of the current decade industrial employment has steadily risen, the previous 13 years saw a steep decline, and numbers have generally been falling since the late 1970s. Total manufacturing employment in America is just 64% of what it was at its 1978 heyday. Much of this decline was driven by previous waves of automation, so machines taking over for humans is an old story.