While by no means has manufacturing in the United States recovered to its former glory, there is hope that a slight resurgence in the trade may be beginning, at least in Rhode Island.
The commitment towards the craft in the state can certainly be seen, most recently in a ceremony held by the New England Institute of Technology celebrating the 200th graduate from its SAMI (Shipbuilding/Marine trades/and Advanced Manufacturing Institute) program – which seeks to provide unemployed Rhode Islanders with in-demand skills to secure jobs in various manufacturing fields such as shipbuilding and general machining.
The program began in 2013 as part of Governor Gina Raimondo’s “Real Jobs RI” program, and has helped 300 Rhode Islanders find employment in manufacturing jobs in the state. The governor spoke earnestly at the graduation ceremony of 11 New England Tech students who had finished the SAMI program training about how her father provided for the family via a manufacturing job, and how she believes in the industry.
While manufacturing is a field in flux currently, perhaps from a combination of uncertainty over increasing automation and the optimism some had regarding the president’s ability to bring jobs back from overseas fading into doubt amidst nonstop scandal, it is a field that will never wholly vanish from American society – it will merely adapt out of necessity.
Training programs like the ones at New England Tech will have to adapt with the changing field, and they are equipped to do it. They are already training students on how to operate CNC machines, which are the industry standard in designing everything from the basic frame of a car to an incredibly intricate and impossibly precise component of a navigation system inside a cruise missile.
While not every entry level manufacturing job is a lucrative endeavor, certain industries can pay handsomely, especially once a worker has proven themselves and their abilities to an employer. Individuals who go through a training program such as SAMI prior to entering the field also have a tremendous advantage in securing a job right away, as they are entering the job market with all the skills necessary to start immediately.
These skills are the skills of tomorrow’s manufacturing profession, but they come coupled with the foundational machining skills which still serve an important purpose – things like pipe fitting, welding and how to operate a table lathe and a milling machine. These skills built the world we enjoy, and they are not disappearing without a trace suddenly overnight.
Automation is undoubtedly the biggest threat to the American manufacturing job, and there is no solution for how we replace certain professional industries once more robots go online. However someone will always have to have the knowledge, skills and desire to work on and fix those robots, just as people must service and fix the machines that do have done work for centuries.
The jobs are in demand and have a higher ceiling for growth than many other jobs one may find themselves in following graduation. With more attention paid at the high school level to technical education, an increase in state funding to training programs like the SAMI program and a delivery on promises at the federal level, there is no reason to believe that a major resurgence of manufacturing jobs is not possible in this country.