Traditionally, when people think about the manufacturing industry, what comes to mind—low wages, low-skill work, and dirty working environments—are today misconceptions. The sector is experiencing a paradigmatic shift as now, a vibrant career, up-skilled workers in robotics and mechatronics, and sustainable, living wages—comparable to middle-class salaries—are defining features of the manufacturing industry. Research from the Economic Policy Institute finds that manufacturing workers earn 13 percent more in hourly compensation than comparable workers earn in the rest of the private sector. The average salary was $74,000 in 2020, and with an expected two million unfilled jobs by 2030, there is abundant opportunity in the sector that is too little discussed. That is why Manufacturing Day matters.
The History of National Manufacturing Day
Celebrated on the first Friday in October, Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) is a nationwide celebration. The tradition started in Rockford, Illinois in 2011, out of a conversation between Dileep Thatte, a manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and Ed Youdell, president and CEO of the Fabricators and Manufacturers’ Association (FMA). They discussed FMA’s members collaborating with NIST’s manufacturing extension partnerships: public–private cooperatives that serve small and medium-sized manufacturers. A broader commemoration of these nationwide collaborations seemed like a great way to celebrate and spread the word about the sector’s growth and success. Thus a successful pilot of National Manufacturing Day was held in October of 2012, with nearly 240 events held by school communities and parents across the United States.
A decade later, Manufacturing Day has now become a series of events, beginning on the first Friday in October and taking place throughout the month. The events aim to show the reality of working in the modern manufacturing industry and to make manufacturing companies and educational institutions attractive to students, parents, teachers, and community leaders. Examples of Manufacturing Day events include high school students visiting a manufacturing plant in their community and learning how to make the computer chips used in smartphones, or students seeing a robot distribute candy to attendees, which inspires students, particularly those underrepresented in STEM, to study robotics. Recently, some facilities showed how they were able to create emergency personal protective equipment (PPE) during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, and how manufacturing PPE helped slow the spread of the coronavirus in their communities. With more in-person events now permitted, Manufacturing Day, on October 7, 2022, presents opportunities for students to learn about manufacturing and to see themselves as members of the sector.
Why Manufacturing Day Matters for Equity and Inclusion
For most of the past decade, The Century Foundation has written extensively on how the rebound of American manufacturing stimulates the economy, job creation, and—most importantly to us—inclusive innovation. Following researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, TCF frames its manufacturing and racial equity initiatives through the concept of Lost Einsteins. Researchers found that children born into the richest 1 percent of society are ten times more likely to become inventors than those born into the bottom 50 percent, which has a stultifying effect on the country’s innovation and economic growth. The research also shows that the country’s innovation can quadruple if women, people of color, and children from low-income families became inventors at the same rate as men from high-income families.The most practical way for this to happen is through exposing more students to innovation, such as Manufacturing Day, and the younger the students are, the better.
The rebound of American manufacturing stimulates the economy, job creation, and—most importantly to us—inclusive innovation.
TCF has contributed to these efforts through the launch of our Industry and Inclusion Cohort (1.0 and 2.0). Supported by Lumina Foundation, and in partnership with the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, TCF’s economics team partners with eight community-embedded workforce development organizations and twelve community colleges to forge racially conscious industry partnerships, and to increase the number of women, people of color, and students with disabilities earning a manufacturing credential. Our cohort is thrilled that one of our members, Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), is transforming a unused school building into a renovated Manufacturing Innovation, Technology and Job Center, and is slated to open its doors during October this year.
The nearly $13 million, 56,600-square-foot building is embedded in a working- to middle-class Black community, and is adjacent to residents of Cleveland Housing Authority. In their new building, MAGNET (a federally funded Manufacturing Extension Partnership organization) will train the workers of tomorrow through interactive tours, and promote innovation and advanced manufacturing for Northeast Ohio’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers. The center will be an empowering innovation district for communities in Cleveland to see themselves in manufacturing, like many Black Ohioans historically did prior to deindustrialization and the resulting massive job loss. The building has a dedicated wing for Cleveland’s Metropolitan School District and surrounding districts, and expects 1,500 students to tour the building annually–a number they were not able to reach in their original building due to space constraints. Manufacturers, particularly those who are of color and economically disadvantaged, will have an opportunity to innovate and compete locally and globally through the building’s industry 4.0 technology, including using virtual reality goggles. The building also has a space for startups, and potential innovators can receive hands-on training and technical support from engineers. If that is not enough excitement, the center also includes an expanded and renovated STEM-themed playground and park. Northeast Ohioans can fly across ziplines or play basketball on sensor-enabled basketball courts.
TCF has been honored to partner with MAGNET’s Early College, Early Career Program, which places career-focused high-schoolers into industries like advanced manufacturing and knows that Manufacturing Day is only the beginning for revitalizing manufacturing in Northeast Ohio. The manufacturing sector built Ohio, and provided economic mobility for Black Americans who may not have had a traditional four-year college degree. The opening of the new center on Manufacturing Day is the beginning of transformative opportunities for Ohioan students to begin their path as future innovators.
TCF is equally honored to partner with twelve community colleges in building a learning community dedicated to diversifying the manufacturing labor pipeline. The team is thrilled that cohort member and historically Black community college Bishop State is also opening an Advanced Manufacturing Center in the Mobile, Alabama area, a region with a majority African-American population. The president of the college highlights that the $17 million center is the only training facility of its kind in the region. Recently opened this fall, the center focuses on STEM education courses and training, and includes a first-of-its-kind process technology laboratory, theory classrooms, and a cyber cafe. The center will attract high-quality and high-wage jobs, upskill a diverse workforce, and stimulate job creation in urban communities. When asked to reflect on the opening of the advanced manufacturing center, Akareem Spears, adult education director, commented, “The construction of the center demonstrates Mobile is poised to be one of the major economic and workforce development areas in the country. Bishop State and our Workforce Development Team are committed to the recruitment of diverse populations who traditionally have not had access to these manufacturing training opportunities in such close proximity.”
The center is also supported by government and private entities, including Alabama Power, Alabama Workforce Development Council, and the Manufacturing Institute. This show of public financial support is noteworthy, given that historically Black colleges and universities have experienced underinvestment for decades, with underfunding more pronounced for historically Black community colleges. Students, incumbent workers, and prospective workers will have opportunities to enroll in courses in mechatronics and robotics, and grow the economy of Mobile with the manufacturing workforce reflecting the racial demographics of the region.
Manufacturing Day and Policy Advocacy: The CHIPS and Science Act and HBCUs
Manufacturing Day 2022 is especially noteworthy because it coincides with the recent success of the CHIPS and Science Act. The passage of the CHIPS Act is a major investment in manufacturing and technology, significantly impacting higher education. Currently, manufacturing and technology are booming and a key area of focus for the country. HBCUs can capitalize on funding from the CHIPS and Science Act to attract communities of color to manufacturing, and offer campus events and tours of facilities on Manufacturing Day to appeal to prospective students.
HBCUs can capitalize on funding from the CHIPS and Science Act to attract communities of color to manufacturing, and offer campus events and tours of facilities on Manufacturing Day to appeal to prospective students.
One of the key provisions for HBCUs is a new $20 billion National Science Foundation Directorate for Technology and Innovation, which will mobilize America’s universities into the critical fields of manufacturing, applied technology research, and technology commercialization. This bill will also establish new programs to increase the involvement of minority-serving institutions in STEM. HBCUs are leaders in producing Black graduates in the emerging industry of renewable energy, promoting the diversification of careers in manufacturing and technology.
Senator Raphael Warnock was among those supporters who voted for the bill, and brought attention to a provision of the law that hasn’t received as much discussion: increased federal funding for HBCU research. This legislation plays a critical role in bolstering research and development funding. Ten HBCUs are currently ranked as high research institutions (R2), and gaining access to additional funding will support their effort to achieve the top spot as a very high research institution or (R1). Many HBCUs have experienced barriers to accessing federal grant funding from agencies like the National Science Foundation. Many land-grant HBCUs are top producers in STEM and are located in rural areas, which should make them ideal partners. This legislation, if implemented equitably, will improve outreach to MSIs and HBCUs with the goal of increasing awareness among such institutions of these funding opportunities, and of building MSI and HBCU capacity to submit competitive proposals and successfully manage awards.
Additionally, manufacturing training programs at community colleges are where agencies should also look to drive the innovation and technology needed for our country’s competitiveness. For example, St. Phillip’s College, a historically Black community college, has a stellar manufacturing program, connecting minority students with jobs with major industries after graduation. St. Phillips College and smaller community colleges like it have been doing this work for decades and would make ideal grantees to further diversify the manufacturing space.
As NSF and other agencies begin their outreach and engagement with colleges and universities, they must look to the lesser known fifteen HBCU community colleges and larger four-year HBCUs universities, and make sure to include them in the NSF’s strategic plan for diverse participation in manufacturing and STEM.
Why National Manufacturing Day Should Leave No One Behind
While Manufacturing Day is celebrated nationally, those who are not a part of a manufacturing ecosystem, particularly students attending Title I schools, may be totally unaware of its significance and exposure to manufacturing careers. The Century Foundation consults with thought leaders, such as Andrew Crowe, founder of the New American Manufacturing Renaissance. Formerly incarcerated and a young father, Andrew uses his platform to speak authentically of how manufacturing reversed his life trajectories. Through exposure to manufacturing, as events we now see on Manufacturing Day, Andrew became a senior machinist and a college instructor, and is now on a national tour, “to show today’s children that their cultural background, the color of their skin, and the mistakes made in their past don’t define who they are and that a successful career they can be proud of is within their reach in the field of manufacturing.” When speaking with TCF’s Industry and Inclusion Cohort, Crowe underscored that innovation most comes from those without privilege, because they are forced to dream bigger than their impoverished and oppressed environments. Andrew’s month of October will be spent celebrating Manufacturing Day and visiting historically under-resourced schools to teach students about manufacturing opportunities.
Manufacturing Day is not just one day or month in October, but a national movement to show the country that manufacturing is back, and every American can be a part of it. TCF is proud to be a student of our partners’ work, and will use our policy and advocacy to elevate the outstanding work of our cohort members. Happy Manufacturing Day to everyone, and we hope your future includes a role in strengthening innovation.