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Disrupting manufacturing: Innovation and the future of skilled labour

The common assumption today is that robots will soon drive our cars, manage our work, and manufacture our goods. But what is the reality of disruptive innovation in U.S. manufacturing? And how should schools educate skilled labor for this new era? Globally, manufacturing now accounts for approximately 16 percent of GDP and 14 percent of employment. While the industrial workforce in the United States is up from 11.4 million to 12.3 million, employment is still stuck at historical lows (not seen since the 1940s). More troubling still, labor force participation has been declining since 2009. In fact, over the past three decades, the gap between rich and poor has widened—reversing the prior trend toward a growing middle class. Discussions on the future of manufacturing are acutely focused on the threat of automation. To be sure, the U.S. manufacturing sector has undergone a turbulent decade. The United States has lost millions of manufacturing jobs to outsourcing. Interestingly, this dynamic now appears to be changing. Manufacturing is converging (or colliding?) with other industries including software design, virtual and augmented reality, and cloud computing, to name a few.