Editorial: Making up with manufacturing

Career fair

Plans for Wisconn Valley — anchored by a 20 million-square-foot manufacturing plant for Foxconn Technology Group — will change the region, but it’s also a sign of a bigger phenomenon.

We are the cheap labor source compared to Japan, Mexico, Germany, Canada, and China. But that seems to be a largely self-created problem. We make more with that labor because of our talent and advanced manufacturing, which is one of the main reasons why Wisconsin has been a manufacturing powerhouse, often being in the top one or two manufacturing states in the country.

According to Deloitte’s Global Competitiveness Index, unit labor costs in manufacturing have largely been flat for decades and over the years the number of companies in manufacturing has decreased. So you’d think that the number of jobs and wages in manufacturing in Racine County would have gone by the wayside as well, but that’s not accurate.

The fact is, the work has changed and our willingness to learn these skills has held us back. And I think it’s time manufacturers helped us understand their needs better so that we adapt to those needs. Why? Because we seem to have fallen out of love with manufacturing. And there are 13,000 reasons — the number construction and manufacturing jobs Foxconn is expected to create — to make-up.

There are no jobs in manufacturing

Well, this is sort of true. If you are thinking about the manufacturing jobs your grandfather or father had… those are gone. What has taken their place are robots and the Internet. The machines do what they are told and we oversee the work. So this has made manufacturing more Manufacturingcompetitive. But if a robot is doing the production then supply chain integrity, responsiveness to the market, and… the best product/marketing make a bigger difference to your success.

Still, the number of manufacturers in Racine County included 332 companies in 2016, a decrease in the number of manufacturing companies compared to 352 in 2011. But the total number of people employed by those companies and average wages increased to 18,024 people that made an average annual wage of $70,000 in 2016 compared to 17,611 people and about $67,000 in 2011, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Still, those are average wages and many jobs in production or in the warehouse are not paying as well.

According to Indeed.com, there are about 1,600 manufacturing jobs in Racine County, but about 1,000 of them are listed as paying $20,000 to $25,000 per year. Foxconn has already listed about 70 jobs, which start at $40,000 a year. But those jobs require more skills. And if we want to make more money, we need to explore how we can become more employable.

But how do we — as people — become competitive?access to more manufacturing environments, become more curious, develop an interest, and connect with those who make things.

We need more access to more manufacturing environments, become more curious about how they do what they do, develop an interest in the work, and connect with those who make things.

Show us the work, the education, and then the jobs

How we train our workforce is going to be key to how much economic benefit our county will receive. But I feel like we have that. The training won’t matter if we aren’t interested in doing the work. And if we don’t have an interest in the work, we won’t want to do the job and someone else will.

To help connect people to the work, I’m wondering if we can’t have the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce coordinate specific groups do tours through Visioning a Greater Racine. This would go a long way in helping people understand what manufacturing is versus what it was. The connection to the community is important because if you have no knowledge of what possibilities exist in manufacturing, how can we help our children understand where the opportunities are in our community?

This is also true for everyone who is employed and underemployed.

I didn’t even realize what manufacturing was like until I started covering manufacturing for the Milwaukee Business Journal in 2014. The first time I saw a 3-D printer make a prototype for a shoe, a mold for dental implants, and an engine block… I was blown away. When you see it, you realize how important a person’s imagination has become. So if we don’t grow up hearing about mom or dad making things for a living, learn about it in school, or read stories about the manufacturing community making things, why would you think that would be a viable career path that offers stable work?

I think we can do better a job with this. Whether it’s for Foxconn, SC Johnson, Modine, or Twin Disc — this is the pathway we need to be able to take advantage of these opportunities.

So here’s my proposition to the manufacturing community, let the community in a little more on what you are doing. And if anyone would like to blog on this topic, I’m game for publishing it. Interested? Contact me, Denise Lockwood, at Denise@racinecountyeye.com.

Eye on Business

Denise Lockwood
About Denise Lockwood 2764 Articles
Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.