Over the past 70 years the United States has gone from having 40% of its gross domestic product to 11% today. That could change rather quickly because of COVID-19 resulting in millions of unemployed young people.
China, once known for cheap labor, in recent decades has enticed many US companies to ship their manufacturing jobs overseas using incentives such as tax breaks and entry into China’s lucrative domestic markets.
With COVID-19 shutting down much of the world’s economy, companies that bought or manufactured products from China are looking hard at sourcing from other places. President Trump is touting making America a manufacturing power again.
That won’t happen unless the domestic US labor pool begins moving toward higher paying, less hi tech jobs that has been the goal of just about every college and university in the country.
So what happens if those institutions of higher learning begin to disappear?
In 2019, colleges and universities had 30% fewer applicants than they needed. Some are facing immediate closures because of operating in the red. Schools have canceled their spring semesters and commencements because of the COVID-19 virus; classrooms, dormitories and athletic facilities have been closed.
Adding to COVID-19’s closing schools across the country, many parents and their college age children are looking at the massive amount of college debt they will incur that may never be repaid. Instead they are beginning to look at trade schools as a better investment.
Trade schools are also on shut down until this crisis is over but when they reopen, not only will they find their current student body wants to return but so many new students will be applying that many will have to open more classrooms and campuses.
Small schools, like Yestermorrow in Vermont, will see more young people signing up to learn how to build wooden structures with their hands, learn about solar power and most importantly, learn that not every comes from watching YouTube. Hands on will be America’s next big thing.
The trades will see an explosion of young people that aren’t afraid to work hard at their jobs and play hard when they aren’t. America will see another industrial revolution not based on hi-tech but rather on young people seeing situations in their jobs in factories and designing and building new processes from the ground up, not given to them by managers and owners who simply tried to implement new software or automation for the sake of saying their factory is now Hi-Tech.
The need for electricians, plumbers, woodworkers, and production workers will rise sharply within the next year or two. These workers will begin to make real money on their jobs, buy new cars, new houses, new furniture and lots of new toys.
We will become the manufacturing power we once were and it will be thanks to a little virus called COVID-19.
In the meantime, stay safe and practice social distance and before you know it, the United States will be back to work with millions of young people leading the march to sustainable manufacturing jobs.
Gary Fleisher is a housing veteran, editor/writer of Modular Home Builder blog and Modular Construction Industry Observer and Information Gatherer