National Manufacturing Month October, 2016
Readers of a certain age will remember familiar patterns in the evolution of their childhood thinking about the inevitable “What Will I Be When I Grow Up?” question. For developing males, it went something like Cowboy-Fireman-Police-Doctor-Outfielder, while females might have followed more of a Nurse-Housewife-Model-Actress pattern.
And then, we actually grew up.
Cowboys and Housewives? How quaint. Half a century ago well over half the popular entertainment programming featured cowboys and/or housewives. On a scant four broadcast channels, westerns and family sitcoms topped the ratings, while today those stereotypical roles have essentially become the washed-up driftwood on popular culture’s trash-strewn thousand-network beach. Some might say yesterday’s cowboys are today’s superheroes. And yesterday’s housewives have evolved into working sitcom moms. Let’s not pretend that Harriet Nelson and June Cleaver weren’t at least partially idealized.
In those not-so-distant days, in the real world, most people ended up working in manufacturing and supporting industries, so there always needed to be a coming-of-age shift from romantic fantasy to occupational reality, at least for those children maturing into members of the corporate and institutional workforce. The shifting demographic status of the housewife designation is another matter we’ll drop out of this thread, at least for the time being.
And in any case, add up all the cowboys, firemen, police, doctors, outfielders, nurses, models and female actors, among those of us born in the 50s and 60s (and now in our 50s and 60s), and you may reach somewhere around 15% of the employment mix. The rest of us working stiffs—meaning most of us—are in sales, engineering, tech, healthcare, education, service and information, finance—and of course, manufacturing. Back in 1964, children didn’t put on Salesman suits, or Librarian tunics, for Halloween trick-or-treating.
It is October, and National Manufacturing Month is upon us once again in the USA. The good news is that technology, and its indivisible partnership with an exploding universe of information, is delivering to our developing workforce an amazing preview, and menu, for what to do with their lives.
Juvenile fantasies of adult vocations have shifted from old-west and domestic dreamworlds to superhero and comic-book roles, and easy and universal access to personal technology and its wide and clear window upon the world have made the transition to real-work evaluation and aspiration faster, more transparent, and way easier.
Five or six decades ago, information about working in engineering and the sciences would have been a relatively high grasp for any child younger than high-school age. That was when Choo-Choo-Charlie was an engineer, after all, and engineers drove trains.
Now, STEM programs, library services, public and private education, the internet, and popular culture have brought technical, technological, and vocational diversity to an ever-younger audience. Changes in the nature of work and industry itself are rigorously measured and predicted to bring notification of future employment trends to bear on career education and training tracks. The ensuing self-categorization lines up batches of ready workers preparing for the hot jobs of each next decade and generation. Nerds and geeks are cool now. We take our children to work once a year. Science, engineering, technical support, services, coding, and manufacturing technology are together an ever growing, ever evolving and interacting mesh of opportunities, many of which didn’t exist in their present form a generation ago.
One interesting manifestation of the parallel progress of technology and information is the Maker movement. Makers have their own events (Faires), mavens, magazines, Youtube channels, Wikis, networks, blogs, and podcasts.
In the Maker culture, information is shared, designs are traded, and creativity is celebrated. When DIY information began spreading out to millions of sites and documents and videos on the web, and useful technical instructions on how to repair, build and adapt complicated systems started the snowball rolling, it was only a matter of time before unexpected connections began to form. Innovation— integrating preconstructed modules, 3d printing, embedded software, traditional crafting, personal technology, open source sharing, and creative thinking— resulted.
Maker culture has already innovated and inspired numerous concepts and products that have been adapted for mass manufacturing, including environmental, energy, personal technology, household, transportation, and medical breakthroughs. It’s a major the new path for revitalizing American industry, and economic development for urban as well as rust-belt communities.
Who’s doing the making? Girls, boys. High school and college students. Farmers, 4H clubs, apartment dwellers, and tinkering dads in suburban mancaves.
And women. The ones already doing double duty at home and somewhere in an office. Make that triple duty, because they’re Making, too.