Work - 11.16.2018

Why Work in Manufacturing?

The hidden supremacy of the manufacturing industry.

Ben Scott

I often get asked this question by people who don’t know much about manufacturing, but are curious why I would choose to work in transmogrification.

My answer is always the same:

Because it is the best! It is a primary industry, and this means it is number 1!

No other business creates wealth in the way that manufacturing does — transforming often-useless inputs into materials, components, and dreamy end-products. It is magical.

Everything we touch, use, interface with, and talk about, is manufactured. Be it a fork or our other handheld devices. Manufacturing includes hardware as well as software — virtual manufacturing and transformation. Even the air we breathe has been through a transforming process.

Services are secondary. Markets are secondary. Stock markets were created by wealthy industrialists who wanted a way to invest their cash. Banks started out as blacksmiths and other trustworthy people in the community with whom you could leave your gold and other precious metals and stones. However, both banks and markets require a functioning legal system — nothing works without a contract, and the ability to have that contract upheld. More on this later.

No manufacturing means no wealth creation, no money, no markets. In its starkest terms, this means that most of us would not be living the way we do or doing the kind of work we may currently do. Think about it.

Manufacturing drives everything. Us humans have been making tools since the dawn of time, but we really got started with the agricultural revolution. This change from hunter-gatherers to agrarians resulted in food surplus which, in turn, gave us time for experimentation and invention — innovation. Humans are innately curious and given time we seek to improve (play and question) and the more people there were, the more this happened.

More production meant (pro)creation. More time lets adults play, people, and so on.

I thoroughly recommend “Sapiens”, “Guns Germs and Steel”, and “Why Nations Fail” as further reading.

As people created “things,” others developed trade, mediums of exchange, and then money. The ability to realize the intrinsic value we put on things created incentives and these incentives have brought us down the road to where we are today.

So why, today, do those that work in secondary industries have all the power and influence? Why do those that can build, fix, make, invent — transmogrify — have a lower value in society than those that manage second base? Easy.

Money.

We worship the bloody stuff, and thus those that possess it and manage it can assume a god-like status. This is just absurd. Almost a form of modern serfdom (more on Hayek and Serfdom in later posts).

No matter how much you amass in a secondary business you are still dependent on primary industry and are a function of it. Services can be considered manufacturing when those services do something innovative and useful to society. For example, the concept of an incorporated company has been the vehicle used to build the fortunes of both entrepreneurs and empires.

It is one of the most basic property rights, it is abstract, non tangible, yet essential to our daily life and has been essential to wealth creation over generations. Property rights are the cornerstone of free markets and democracy and thus in order to preserve our property rights, we must have an independent judiciary and functioning financial system (which does not work if the legal system does not work).

Property rights and our ability to uphold them are essential, as without them people do not invest — they do not take risk. This is where the bringing together of different minds is essential. The blacksmith, artist, or engineer, does not need the concept of property rights or a corporation to perform their work. But the lawyer does need the blacksmith, artist, and engineer if they want a nice house to live in, a chair to sit on and the toilet to work.

The industrialist and their ability to amass wealth was only possible because of the lawyer. It is a partnership, and we do do better together.

Manufacturing creates everything. It’s the leader; where the power really is and where true skills lie. Skills that take years to hone — I’m not talking about button-pushers or burger-flippers here. To excel in manufacturing you do have to be good with your hands, but to be good with your hands requires an open and sharp mind — intelligence.

Dexterity requires understanding and a type of understanding that can’t always be put into words as its all in the feel. Every piece of wood, metal, or plastic feels different, as does every component. People who excel on the shop floor have the most amazing ability to understand how things go together, and use their sense of touch and smell rather than how it might look or measure — they don’t need a set of instructions as it is all intuition to them.

Skills close the gap where documentation and words are not enough. You have to see it in your mind’s eye, live it, breathe it. In the world of precision that I know, the best engineers know how to adjust for temperature variation or humidity without measuring it — they just know.

These are small variations, a single degree of change that can mean the difference between pass and fail. A door slam and its resulting change in air pressure of the room does the same. If you like detail, have OCD or any other obsession, can just sense, perceive, you will love the world of precision manufacturing and assembly.

These people rarely do ‘well’ academically, and schools often classify them as no-hopers because they won’t usually go to university (it just makes no sense to us). And if your not going to Uni, well, you might as well not bother with life.

What is this thinking!?

Who said there was a right and a wrong way to live life? The prissiness of much of the established middle class elites means they can’t cope with getting their hands dirty, or that somehow being a plumber, electrician, fitter, machinist, welder, tool-maker (the list is endless) is worth less than being a lawyer or doctor or middle manager.

These same people who try think they are above those that make things who are often unable to change a light bulb, change a car tire, unblock a drain and fail to build a Lego model with the instructions.

I take it as a challenge not to use the instructions for Lego (yes, I still play with Lego), assemble my Ikea purchases etc. All these things are designed by humans, so why do we need instructions? It’s often pretty simple stuff. So who is the fool, please?

Manufacturing is not for the faint-hearted. It can be a very tough place. But it is beautiful.

Manufacturing requires the brightest minds, and will challenge you in ways that the service industries just cannot. You will also have a kind of independence and autonomy that you will never find in a service industry career. You need to be skilled with your hands, adroit, and be able to perceive what is going on out of sight — feel it. It’s a more complex, faster-moving, cause-and-effect world with risk. You will see (and sometimes feel!) the direct impact of your every decision.

Good engineers are often poor communicators and can be arrogant as they forget they do have to work with other people and that not everyone is going to understand things the way they do. Meeting production and productivity targets can be uncompromising and bruising, but it’s also sexy and always an amazing challenge.

There are new problems to be solved every day, things rarely go according to plan and there is a buzz. It is all about excellence, truth and overcoming oneself.

If you want to be number 1, keep it primary!