Connecting the Dots

As Software Enhances Manufacturing — and Our Entire Economy — New Focus on Skills Is Needed

The ongoing discussions about the future of work and preparing for the jobs of tomorrow ignores one very important fact: In many places that future has already arrived. Planning for the future is important, but we also need to focus right now on ensuring that workers have the skills they need for the software-enabled jobs of today.

Consider manufacturing and manufacturing jobs. The average manufacturing site already uses more than 150 software programs right now. Manufacturers are quickly adopting a wide range of software-powered tools like 3D design, additive manufacturing, the cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to transform the way they design, build, and deliver new products – and the benefits are enormous. the BSA Foundation released a new report titled, “Every Sector is a Software Sector: Manufacturing” to shine a light on all these benefits. As the report’s name suggests, software is now an integral part of every industry, not just the software or tech industries. Half of all coding jobs are actually outside the tech industry. This report is the first in a series to help policymakers and society understand that when we talk about enabling the benefits of software, we’re talking about enabling the entire US economy.

Software tools help manufacturers in countless ways. In the design phase, designers can now use artificial intelligence tools to rapidly design and test countless computer-generated options to quickly produce more robust and often unexpected solutions. To accelerate the product development process, companies can now take advantage of software that allows them to simulate design performance, test physical attributes in a virtual environment, and reduce the need for costly physical prototypes. These tools cut development time by as much as 50 percent and eliminate defects prior to production.

Software advancements also enable entirely new ways of making things like 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) and mass customization. Factories are getting smarter too as software is used to improve factory layout and efficiency and to infuse sensors directly into factory machines to radically improve the way they operate.

Software isn’t just spurring innovation or production, it also is changing what the products themselves do as software is increasingly incorporated directly into manufactured goods. This means manufacturers aren’t just users of code; they write code too.

However, all the benefits and opportunities of a software-driven manufacturing industry cannot happen without properly skilled workers. There are already more than 150,000 software programmers in the manufacturing industry, and the demand for software developments among auto manufacturers alone has grown an astounding 200 percent in just over four years. Policymakers need to make investments in computer science education to help prepare the next generation and overcome the looming skills gap. Mapping out career pathways and highlighting the new paths available in the manufacturing sector is also key to addressing the skills gap. It is also important to have a pipeline in place for those who need to re-skill and retrain to perform their duties in new ways.

Everyone can reap the economic benefits of software, but it will require educators, employers, and policymakers to all take an active role. Software innovations are not replacing workers; on the contrary, they require more and more workers with the right skills. Our country’s economic competitiveness depends upon addressing the current talent shortage and skills gap. The future of manufacturing lies in the hands of workers across the United States today.

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Chris HopfenspergerChris Hopfensperger
Executive Director,

As the founding executive director of, Chris Hopfensperger leads the foundation’s efforts to help policymakers and the general public better understand the impact that software has on our lives, our economy, and our society. He also helps translate the foundation’s philanthropic and forward-looking agenda into efforts to address key issues facing the software industry.

More about Chris Hopfensperger


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