Is American manufacturing declining? A new survey from Leading2Lean suggests a majority of Americans believe yes, it’s declining; but perhaps it is wrong. The IoT (Internet of Things) is certainly changing the face of manufacturing in America and outside of it, but it’s also opening doors to new efficiencies that can lead to higher profit margins and the ability to offer personalization, among other benefits. The next generation of Industry 4.0 leaders will need a new set of skills to maximize the value IoT technologies offer manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

The latest Leading2Lean Manufacturing Index survey reports 70% of respondents believe the American manufacturing industry is in decline, and 58% believe the number of manufacturing jobs in America is declining along with it. Of respondents who believe the industry is in decline, 71% say outsourcing jobs to foreign countries is the top reason. However, predictions from research firms like Deloitte suggest manufacturing is in fact growing, and in the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled. However, estimates suggest a skills gap in manufacturing will leave up to 2 million of these jobs unfilled.

In fact, a new IoT in manufacturing report from Market Research Engine says the market will exceed $20.5 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 27% between 2016 and 2022. Major factors driving this growth include the increasing need for centralized monitoring and predictive maintenance, a demand-driven supply chain and connected logistics, the need for agile production, operational efficiency, and control, the need to comply with changing regulations, the development of advanced data analytics and data processing, and the arrival of intelligent machine applications.

In order to live up to growth projections, the manufacturing industry will need skilled workers and leaders who understand the importance of the IoT in driving the space forward. A skills gap currently exists as older Americans retire and younger workers look elsewhere for their careers. Leading2Lean’s Manufacturing Index survey says just 45% of respondents believe manufacturing jobs are an attractive option to younger Americans.

The industry is working to change negative perceptions about manufacturing through efforts targeted at the next generation of workers. At the recent 2018 IMTS (Intl. Manufacturing Technology Show) in Chicago, Ill., for instance, the Smartforce Student Summit offered attendees a glimpse into the next generation of high-tech manufacturing jobs. The summit offered hands-on challenges and learning labs to engage students in the possibilities offered by IoT-enabled manufacturing, highlighting technologies such as robotics and AI (artificial intelligence), automation, 3D printing and additive manufacturing, data analytics, cloud computing, and more.

Though the industry is in flux, there is growth on the horizon for smart manufacturing. And yet, the industry is faced with not only negative perceptions about its potential in America but also a sizable skills gap that could end up holding it back. With continued education and effort to change negative perceptions, however, the industry can attract high-quality workers and next-gen leaders who understand the potential of smart manufacturing in a connected world.

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