Here's What It Takes to Work for GE in the U.S. Today, According to Jeffrey Immelt

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1) "You're going to have to know some computer skills."

2) "... and some artisan skills ... "

3) ("You don't have to be a programmer.")

4) But "you have to work in teams."

That's what it takes to work at GE in the United States today, Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, said at an Atlantic conference today on the future of manufacturing in Washington, D.C.

But does America have enough of those workers, Greg Ip, economics editor of The Economist, asked. "Not yet," Immelt responded.

Due to the rising labor costs in China and the growing cost of oil and materials used to move goods around the world, GE has famously moved thousands of jobs back to the United States, as The Atlantic reported last year. But after shedding more than 6 million manufacturing jobs in the last decade, the U.S. has added only about half a million manufacturing jobs since the bottom of the recession. Is that a dead-cat bounce, or the mark of a renaissance?

Immelt said American manufacturing was more competitive than it had been in many years. "The future has a chance to be different than the past," he said, predicting that manufacturing jobs would continue to grow, even as a share of total employment, even if it didn't get anywhere close to its 20th century highs.

He also suggested that the outsourcing frenzy that took hold in the 1990s and 2000s was a reasonable principle taken too far. "Globalization is not a bad thing," he said. We want to be close to the markets we sell into." But "the record is mixed" for outsourcing. "Some has worked, a lot of it hasn't work."

"We are a global company, I'm not going to apologize for that," he said.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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