For quite a few years, Americans have seen major manufacturing companies take their plants to other countries where labor is cheap and easily acquired. We have all driven down streets lined with warehouses that were once humming with life that have since turned dark, silent, and empty.
What many Americans do not realize is that while some of the major corporations have moved manufacturing out of the U.S., domestic manufacturing jobs are not actually vanishing. They are evolving.

One of the main reasons Donald Trump won the presidency last November was his promise to bring jobs, particularly manufacturing jobs, back to America. In February, just weeks after taking office, Trump brought two dozen executives of manufacturing companies to the White House. They all committed to keeping jobs in America.

However, the executives at that meeting all sang the same song: there were plenty of openings for U.S. manufacturing jobs, but too few qualified people to fill them. They urged the president to support programs that would help workers gain the technical training they need to qualify for the current and future openings. That need for highly technical skills bodes well for veterans, who tend to leave the military with more advanced skills than the average American entering the workforce.

What is behind all this change? Technology, mostly. In recent years, manufacturing companies are challenged to create processes and equipment to help them produce goods more efficiently than their competitors. When it comes to unskilled labor, manufacturing is becoming less and less of a solid prospect. In many cases, it takes at least a two-year degree – and probably soon, a four-year degree – to work on these high-tech factory floors. As a result, salaries in this industry have increased.

The industry remains incredibly important. According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), in 2016, manufacturers contributed $2.18 trillion to the United States economy. This figure has risen steadily since 2009, when manufacturers contributed $1.70 trillion. NAM also points out that for every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to the economy – the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector.

About 9 percent of the United States’ workforce, or 12.3 million people, are employed in the manufacturing industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 7.7 million and 4.6 million workers in durable and non-durable goods manufacturing, respectively. And since the end of the Great Recession, more than 800,000 workers have been hired on at manufacturing plants.

The pay in the manufacturing sector continues to be lucrative. The NAM indicates that in 2015, the average manufacturing worker in the United States earned a salary of $81,289, including pay and benefits. And According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average manufacturing worker earned nearly $26.00 per hour, not including benefits.

While the perception of manufacturing jobs might include a vision of giant factories bustling with noise and workers, most of manufacturing firms in the United States are small. In 2014, there were over 250,000 manufacturing firms. Of those, only 3,700 firms were considered to be small (fewer than 500 employees). In fact, three-quarters of these firms have fewer than 20 employees, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Manufacturers drive more innovation than any other industry sector in the United States. More than three-quarters of all private-sector research and development (R&D) conducted in the nation, is done by manufacturing companies. R&D in the manufacturing sector has risen from $126.2 billion in 2000 to $229.9 billion in 2014.

The best news? Jobs in manufacturing remain available and attainable. 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. As mentioned earlier, some of this has to do with increased technology on the manufacturing floor. But some of the job increase is because employers are bringing back manufacturing jobs from overseas.

Manufacturers are beginning to discover 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 driving manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. 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. Fortunately, that is something that benefits the better educated, better trained military veteran. Your technical skills, dedication to safety, and ability to adapt and learn new procedures give you a sharp advantage in this exciting and evolving field.