A bright future for manufacturing: Advancing technologies and changing policies

Photo by David Bohrer/National Assoc. of Manufacturers

By Craig Giffi and Michelle Drew Rodriguez

The manufacturing industry is changing rapidly, as the convergence of the physical and digital worlds propel an exciting evolution. 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) offers bold, flexible new ways to create sophisticated goods. Products with built-in sensors linked to the Internet of Things offer long-term insight into product performance and opportunities to reinvent customer relationships. And artificial intelligence and machine learning are shifting some of the more repetitive tasks to computers, informing better decision making by human workers and freeing up time for more creative work.

According to a study by Deloitte, The National Association of Manufacturers, and The Manufacturing Institute,1 public perception of manufacturing is also on an upward trend. Let’s look at the changing perceptions of manufacturing jobs, the technologies that will have the most impact on the manufacturing industry, and how public policy can shape future competitiveness.

A confident outlook for jobs

Nearly half of survey respondents feel confident that the manufacturing industry will grow stronger in the long term. The perception of future manufacturing jobs looks especially promising, as Americans believe jobs will be more creative and innovative, requiring higher levels of technical and problem-solving capabilities. Americans strongly agree or agree that future manufacturing jobs will:

  • Require a higher level of technical expertise and skill (88 percent)
  • Occur in cleaner and safer environments (81 percent)
  • Require less manual labor (77 percent)
  • Require high levels of technical and problem-solving efforts (77 percent)
  • Be more creative, enabling greater imagination through the design, make, and build process (74 percent)

Advanced industries drive the sector forward

Many manufacturing operations are in advanced industries, defined as those in which R&D spend per worker and the share of workers requiring STEM knowledge is high. Advanced industries contribute significantly to the US economy and generate more jobs, output, and worker compensation than other sectors. The outlook is impressive, with expectations that these industries will:2

  • Support 40 million workers and account for $2.7 trillion in output (17 percent of US GDP)
  • Employ 80 percent of the nation’s engineers (5 million)
  • Generate approximately 85 percent of all US patents (360,000)
  • Perform 90 percent of private sector R&D ($250 billion)
  • Account for 60 percent of US exports ($600 billion)

Public awareness of advanced technologies in manufacturing is strong. The technologies that US respondents believe will have the most impact include 3D printing, cybersecurity, Internet of Things, advanced robotics, and artificial intelligence. It’s interesting to note that a large number of Americans aren’t as familiar with some technologies manufacturing executives say are critical to the future of the industry, such as predictive analytics and advanced materials.

Increasing competitiveness through public policy

Many Americans think the US manufacturing industry is competitive on the global level in many areas, but they believe more should be done to foster competitiveness and to increase jobs in the US. According to those surveyed, policy changes are needed to lead the way. Here are the top policy change recommendations the US public believes are needed to boost American manufacturing competitiveness:

  • 86 percent say US health care costs need to decrease
  • 81 percent say the US needs a comprehensive energy policy to ensure availability and low costs
  • 80 percent call for education reform
  • 74 percent encourage tax cuts for small businesses to encourage job creation
  • 71 percent encourage long-term stable funding for programs that spur innovation and advanced manufacturing
  • 68 percent believe the US should provide tax incentives to encourage manufacturing in the US.

Combined with the public’s support and backing of investment in manufacturing, their views can be an important guidepost in designing public policy to boost the country’s economic and job-creation engine.

The study concludes that Americans perception of the manufacturing industry looks promising and future jobs will be safer, more challenging, and more attractive to the next generation. How can manufacturing executives fast forward the perception of the industry and align it with a strategy that will attract top talent? That’s the subject of our next blog.

To get a more in-depth look of the findings, download the full report and infographic. And be on the lookout for an upcoming series of blog posts on the key themes identified in our study.


1A look ahead: How modern manufacturers can create positive perceptions with the US public,” Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, 2017.

2 Advanced Technologies Initiative: Manufacturing & Innovation, Deloitte and US Council on Competitiveness

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