What is the state of quality and manufacturing among today’s general public? From the most recent Institute of Supply Management (ISM) report, which showed a December 2008 manufacturing number of 32.4 (50 or more indicates growth) after a 36.2 reported for November 2008, one would believe manufacturing is hurting.

The United States government, as was reported last spring in Quality Magazine, has taken metrology off the list of official careers it publishes in its 2010 Standard Occupational Classification System (SOC). The SOC serves as the basis for the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), the “bible” of career counselors and is used by them, and educators, to inform students about career opportunities. In short, omission of metrology careers from the SOC and OOH means that after 2010, high school and college counselors will no longer have a formal tool to tell students about a career in metrology.

Companies, associations, state governments, colleges and universities are creating and implementing programs to attract young people to manufacturing and quality. They need as much support as possible.

The time that it takes for manufacturing to rebound, at least as indicated by the ISM, may be known in a relatively short while. Whether the initiatives to attract new blood to manufacturing and quality bear fruit may not be fully known for another decade. Does this indicate that our country no longer understands or values the importance of quality and manufacturing?

That would be an extreme position to take. Most people understand manufacturing and quality as an end result of what is produced, while not familiar with the processes themselves. During numerous reports of unsafe Chinese-manufactured goods during 2007, U.S. consumers became acutely aware of the importance of quality. When products are recalled, U.S. consumers become aware of the effects of design or manufacturing flaws.

A recent experience made me think that quality and manufacturing have become an integral part of everyday life, and that there may be hope for attracting more conscious interest in both.

My wife and I went to New York City and spent three days in Manhattan adding to the local economy. By the volume of traffic in Manhattan, one might be skeptical of a recession. One of our stops was Macy’s department store in Herald Square. This is the location that was made famous in the 1947 movie, “Miracle on 34th Street,” and indeed the windows on that side of the store re-create some of the famous scenes from that classic film.

However, it was the Christmas windows along the main door facing Herald Square that caught my attention. Those windows displayed the various “parts” that are placed on a Christmas tree-ornaments, stars, tinsel, lights. Instead of just showing these items being placed on the tree, the window creators showed how each element was manufactured. The manufacturing was whimsical in its manner, with the tresses of glittery hair from three Dr. Seuss-like characters being woven into tinsel, special dust being collected and joined with other materials and “pressed” into stars, and so on. However, the point is that the displays showed that a process is required to create products. And, in the case of the light bulbs, quality equipment was displayed-the XRaymanator-as a way to ensure that the parts were being made to specification.

Each window poetically described how each light, ornament and star was made, and made to a standard that would ensure a beautiful tree. That’s the ultimate specification and measure that the product is of quality-it does what it was designed to do. There were lines to see each window, and small children and adults alike had their noses pressed on the glass to get a closer look. Of course, part of the appeal is the whimsy with which the windows were created, but more than one child was heard to point out to their parent how the parts were being made. They were enthralled with the idea that the lights, ornaments, stars, tinsel and other parts didn’t “magically appear,” but were actually manufactured.

Are the windows at Macy’s the answer to manufacturing woes? Probably not by themselves. However, they are a glimpse into the idea that future generations of quality and manufacturing professionals await, if that same sense of awe and wonder evident at the Macy’s Christmas windows can be tapped. It’s also an indicator that adults can have an influence on encouraging such careers if that same sense of curiosity can be directed.

One thing was certain after seeing the reactions to Macy’s windows: the ordinary citizen does still have an appreciation for how products are made and the processes that ensure those products behave as expected.

Share your thoughts with me at williamst@bnpmedia.com.