3 Questions

Emily Stover DeRocco is president of The Manufacturing Institute, the nonprofit and nonpartisan affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers. Since assuming the role in March 2008, after her election by the board of trustees, DeRocco has launched and implemented a strategic national agenda on education reform and work force development, innovation support and services, and research on behalf of U.S. manufacturers.

How can manufacturers continue to become more efficient in this economy?

There are two primary ways for manufacturers to become more efficient, and in fact, they will do both. One is continued infusion of technology into their production processes. We are now at a great intersection of technology and manufacturing in this country. Even on the smallest shop floor, you see robotics and integrated systems that are driving manufacturing processes. Infusion of technology will definitely continue.

The second is that manufacturers need to hire and retain smarter workers. As you have the intersection of technology and manufacturing in a much more complex global economy, the work force needs to become educated and skilled — what we call a 21st-century high-performance work force.

Does that refer to training employees or to finding more skilled employees?

It’s actually both. We have a very aggressive agenda here at The Manufacturing Institute on behalf of manufacturers to drive significant education reform that recognizes that most of our workers need a secondary education. A high school degree is no longer sufficient. Our reform will actually grade the competencies and skills that manufacturers now require of their employees into high school and community college programs of study. But it is also important for manufacturers to also increase the skills of their current work force.

In general, is the industry experiencing an uptick?

Actually, I would say yes. In past recessions, manufacturing might have been viewed as the laggard coming out of a former recession. In this one, I think they’re a leader and, in large measure, that’s a tribute to their evolution — the fact that they had gone lean, that they were highly productive, that they had invested in the technology and the new markets and innovations necessary to position themselves to come out of the recession as quickly as possible.