The Chicago Company of Friends group has been discussing an interesting question this week. Here are some highlights from the email conversation:
Lynne Marie Parson: I’m doing design edits for a university’s curriculum/course catalog, and I just noticed that a department has changed nearly every use of the word “manufacturing” to “industrial” or “business.” Has this word’s meaning devolved so much because our society associates it with layoffs or a less-than-glamorous job description? I see manufacturing as a necessary process. Our society, as it is now, cannot exist without it in some form or fashion. Why would it be a no-no word?
Paul Lloyd: Perhaps your university friends are changing the word to “industrial” or “business” because those words have a broader context and the university may want to reach a wider range of prospective students. “Manufacturing” is when you make stuff in a factory. “Industrial” sounds like manufacturing, warehousing, light industrial assembly, or maybe providing engineering or other services to the “industrial sector.” “Business” means whatever you do to make money. The manufacturing people I’ve met over the years would be unlikely to concern themselves with politically correct usage of words. They just want to make stuff and ship it out the door.
Joan Novick: I agree that “manufacturing” can become a less-than-glamourous word, and not just to students paying tuition money in search of careers. For one thing, “manufacture” can evoke the image of hand labor, heavy machinery, or famously failing plants. Does that sound like something worth studying in college? More importantly, not just the manufactured products, but the labor sources themselves are procured outside the U.S. — in places chosen for the low cost of labor and/or materials. “Industry” or “business” suggests white-collar managerial control of these resources. Which career sounds cleaner, more profitable to you? I agree that we need manufacturing — for the products themselves, and for the economic support of our own (dwindling) labor force — but for a lot of reasons it’s just NIMBY.
Lynn Lee: The subtle twist of “manufacture” to “industrial” and “business” may well be signaling an interesting trend sweeping across the U.S. for several years: the off-shore sourcing of manufacturing jobs. Wasn’t it Megatrends long ago that predicted that the U.S. would become less and less a manufacturer of hard goods and be a seller of knowledge? I think this change in academia is just finally picking up what businesses have been doing for over 15 years.
Benjamin Elrod: I personally don’t mourn the loss of manufacturing jobs. As a society, there is certainly a degree of nostalgia for the factory worker, 9-5er, unionized, job-for-life type of employment. However, this type of work has become a commodity with little opportunity for self expression or creativity. The training issue is relevant in a big way, because there will only be greater numbers of people displaced. How do we employ the last generation of manufacturing employees? Where do we find employment for these displaced people? Is there a place in the American economy for the displaced manufacturer?