The United States is at a dangerous juncture: Manufacturing jobs are on the rise, but the growth is still fragile. Given the hypercompetitive nature of global manufacturing, it wouldn’t take much to kill this momentum and put the U.S. back to where it was a couple of years ago. That’s why it’s critical for American manufacturers to maximise the return on all their assets — including their workforces.
U.S. manufacturers have always been at the forefront in making efficient use of physical capital, but human capital is a different story. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that for decades, companies have thought of workers as essentially interchangeable, somewhat like machine parts — if one doesn’t work out, replace it with another. Managers typically assume that a worker who meets minimum qualifications can be taught pretty much any job in a short time.
If companies continue to follow that approach, they risk becoming less competitive and putting an early end to the growth of the American manufacturing sector, which has generated more than 330,000 new production jobs over the past two years. Instead, they need to recognise that not everyone is cut out to work on today’s factory floor.
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