There is a reason that the manufacturing industry was the engine of the U.S. economy for so long. The work employed a lot of people and was based on skills that anyone could develop with a little training.
At its peak in the late 1970s, more than 20 percent of the American workforce was engaged in manufacturing, representing more than 10 percent of U.S. GDP.
As a career, the industry had a lot going for it. Manufacturing wages were generally above average, they offered competitive benefits and the work was plentiful and available to those without a college degree. It was long America’s great economic equalizer, offering opportunity and a chance at the American Dream to all who were willing to work.
That’s why the falloff in manufacturing employment in recent decades has been so devastating. Not only are millions of blue-collar professionals now out of work, an entire generation of American workers is facing an uncertain future without a clear path ahead. Without the stability that manufacturing jobs have long provided, the blue-collar workforce is at an impasse.
Mamoon Hamid, general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and one of our Kauffman Fellows (Class 11), believes that computer programming is the ideal solution for these workers. It is task-based, in high demand and can be taught to just about anyone over the course of a few months.
By thinking about programming as a blue-collar field, he believes that we can finally find a way to transition America’s blue-collar workforce to the knowledge-based economy, while also providing the talent needed to support the fast-growing digital sector.
This story was a guest column by Kauffman Fellows CEO Jeff Harbach in VCJ. Jeff is president and chief executive of Kauffman Fellows. He tweets at @jeffharbach.