Opportunities in Manufacturing

If the word “manufacturing” makes you think of giant factories full of grimy, noisy machines tended by multitudes of workers in overalls and hard hats, you need to join the 21st century. Yes, there are still some plants like that in the United States, but they are becoming rarer and rarer as technology and specialized training take over the factory floor. There are fewer workers on the floor these days, and the factories of tomorrow will have even fewer.

But manufacturing jobs are not vanishing. They are just changing. Opportunities are increasing in support occupations – marketing, information technology, delivery, etc. The best news is that there will be lots of opportunities in manufacturing for years to come.

Educational requirements are changing as well. It will take at least a two-year degree – and probably soon, a four-year degree – to work on tomorrow’s high-tech factory floors. As a result, salaries will be higher.

What is behind all this change? The continuing challenge for manufacturing companies to create processes and equipment to help them produce goods more efficiently than their competitors.

In 2015, manufacturers contributed $2.17 trillion to the United States economy, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). This figure has risen steadily since 2009, when manufacturers contributed $1.70 trillion. And for every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.40 is added to the economy – the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector.

Manufacturing supports an estimated 18.5 million jobs in the United States – about one in six private-sector jobs. More than 12 million Americans – 9 percent of the work force – are employed directly in manufacturing. In 2014, the average manufacturing worker in the United States earned $79,553 annually, including pay and benefits. The average worker in all industries earned $64,204.

U.S. manufacturers are the most productive in the world, far surpassing the productivity of any other major manufacturing economy, leading to higher wages and higher living standards. Taken alone, manufacturing in the United States would be the ninth-largest economy in the world, according to the NAM.

Manufacturers have changed the way they’ve done business over the past 20 years, learning to be more lean. Output per hour for all workers in the manufacturing sector has increased by more than 2.5 times since 1987, according to the NAM. Manufacturers in the United States also performs more than three-quarters of all private-sector research and development (R&D) in the nation, driving more innovation than any other sector. R&D in the manufacturing sector has risen from $126.2 billion in 2000 to $229.9 billion in 2014. Over the next decade, the NAM expects that nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be needed, and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to a skills gap.

Some Americans will be surprised by this good news. They have become accustomed to seeing manufacturing jobs go overseas. But in recent years, some key American manufacturers have either brought jobs back from Asia and Latin America or have decided not to export the jobs in the first place.

Manufacturers have discovered the value of bringing production closer to the point of sale, where their employees can engage more directly with customers and adapt quickly to changes

in the market. Other factors include rising salaries in China and new labor, environmental, and safety regulations abroad.

But the jobs that are returning will not look much like the jobs that left. The old assembly line is mostly gone. Manufacturing workers will need to be smarter and better trained to get the best jobs in the industry.

Friday July 22, 2016

This article appeared in the July-August 2016 issue of Search & Employ Magazine