Industry Employment Outlook – Manufacturing (1)

Gear Up for a Manufacturing Career  |  As Jobs Come Marching Home, Manufacturers Will Look to Veterans to Fill the Ranks  |

Published in the July/August 2012 issue of print Search & Employ®  |

The manufacturing workforce in the United States is expanding, according to the Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), a part of the United States Department of Commerce. The ESA report “The Benefits of Manufacturing Jobs,” published in May 2012, said that, from 2010 through April 2012, manufacturing employment had grown by 489,000 jobs, or 4 percent – the strongest rebound since the early 1980’s. And from mid-2009 through February 2012, the number of job openings surged by over 200 percent, to 253,000 openings. Put those facts together with the ongoing retirements of Baby Boomers (people born from 1946 through 1964), and you should like the opportunities coming their way.

The ESA report gets better. Manufacturing jobs usually pay well and provide good benefits. The report said that, on average, hourly wages and salaries for manufacturing jobs are $29.75 an hour – compared with $27.47 an hour for non-manufacturing jobs. Total hourly compensation, which includes employer-provided benefits, is $38.27 for workers in manufacturing jobs and $32.84 for workers in non-manufacturing jobs.

But the days of just anyone being able to get a manufacturing job are over; higher education has become important. In 2011, 53 percent of all manufacturing workers had at least some college education, up from 43 percent in 1994.

Many Americans have become accustomed to hearing about manufacturing jobs heading overseas. Beginning in the 1970’s, high-paying jobs in steel, textile, electronics, and automotive manufacturing relocated first to Latin America, then to Asia. But some economists and analysts believe the tide may be turning. The dynamics of global labor, transportation, and productivity costs that ripped apart American manufacturing have begun to shift. Key American manufacturers have either brought jobs back from Asia and Latin America, or have decided not to relocate them in the first place.

What led to this trend? The experts say that 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; new labor, environmental, and safety regulations abroad; and the higher cost of energy required to ship products halfway around the world.

This is certainly good news for American workers. But the jobs that are returning will be little like those that left. The old assembly line is mostly gone. Manufacturing workers will need to be smart and well trained to get the best jobs in the industry.

Employment outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a part of the United States Department of Labor, regularly updates the outlook for all major industries in the United States. On the web page, the BLS forecasts employment and output trends for manufacturing and other industries for the years from 2010 through 2020. The BLS published the data in January 2012, four months earlier than the ESA report.

The employment projections vary widely among product groups. We base the following list on the BLS’s projected annual rate of change in employment – that is, the rate at which the employment figure for 2010 would have to change each year to get to the figure projected for 2010. For a breakdown of the groups listed – the “industries within the industries” – see “Your Research Guide to a Career in Manufacturing,” which begins on page xx of this magazine.

Projected Up (rate of plus 1.0 percent or more): Wood Product; Plastics and Rubber Products; Nonmetallic Mineral Product; Fabricated Metal Product.

Projected Even (rate between plus 1.0 percent and minus 1.0 percent): Food; Beverage and Tobacco Product; Paper; Printing and Related Support; Chemical; Primary Metal; Machinery; Electrical Equipment, Appliance, and Component; Transportation Equipment; Furniture and Related Product.

Projected Down (rate of minus 1.0 percent or more negative): Textile Mills and Textile Product Mills; Apparel, Leather and Allied Product; Petroleum and Coal Products; Computer and Electronic Product.

But there are good employment opportunities among all industries, even those with rates well into the “minuses.” For the veteran job seeker, it is a matter of selecting your target wisely. Below are a few tips.

Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing

This is a part of the Transportation Equipment Manufacturing group. The BLS expects employment in this part to decline at an annual rate of 0.3 percent from 2010 through 2020. But the projection for growth in output – measured in dollar volume of product and adjusted to take inflation out of the picture – is 2.7 percent, which is pretty high.

Job prospects should be favorable for workers in aerospace engineering and other professional occupations because this sector is expected to see a large number of scheduled retirements. Many engineers entered the industry during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

High prices for fuel are causing world airlines to hasten the process of replacing older, less fuel- efficient aircraft with newer models. This trend should lead to a substantial increase in the number of aircraft produced.

Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing

This is a part of the Computer and Electronic Product Manufacturing group. The BLS expects employment to plunge at an annual rate of 3.1 during the 2010-2020 period, but output to skyrocket at an annual rate of 14.5 percent.

Employment opportunities will be especially good for highly skilled positions. Those opportunities will come from technological innovations in computers, semiconductors, and telecommunications devices. There will also be a need to replace many workers who leave this segment due to retirement. The best opportunities will be in research and development. Computer software engineers will also be in high demand.

Much of the decline will occur among production workers, as manufacturing becomes more automated and labor-intensive jobs end up overseas. Workers with high-tech training will have the best opportunities. But other segments of the manufacturing industry compete with this segment for high-tech workers.

Food Manufacturing

Despite a rising demand for manufactured food products by a growing population, automation and increasing productivity will limit employment growth. Nevertheless, numerous job openings will arise, as experienced workers transfer to other industries, retire, or leave the labor force for other reasons.

Food manufacturing is not as sensitive to economic conditions as other industries. Even during recessions, the demand for food is likely to remain relatively stable – and the demand for processed food may even increase.

Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing

This is a part of the Chemical Manufacturing group. The BLS expects employment to remain steady at an annual rate of 0.2 percent. The BLS projects an annual increase of 2.6 percent in output because many the products are related to preventive or routine healthcare, rather than just illness. The growing number of older people, who tend to consume more of all types of healthcare services, will further stimulate demand.

The BLS anticipates a strong demand in professional occupations—especially for life and physical scientists engaged in research and development. Computer specialists such as systems analysts, biostatisticians, and computer support specialists also will be in demand as disciplines such as biology, chemistry, and electronics continue to converge and become more interdisciplinary – creating demand in rapidly emerging fields such as bioinformatics and nanotechnology. The BLS also projects a strong demand in production occupations.

Printing and Related Support Activities

Overall employment will decline at an annual rate of 0.7 percent, and output will rise 2.7 percent, according to the BLS. Companies will need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons. Opportunities will be especially strong for people with up-to-date printing skills. Changing technology and new business models that make greater use of digital equipment and shorter-run print jobs will provide job opportunities in an evolving printing industry.

The decrease in overall employment reflects the increasing automation of the printing process and the expanding use of the Internet – which reduces the need for printed materials. However, digital printing and shorter-run print capabilities enable many printers to accept smaller job orders and remain profitable.

Many printers are expanding the number of secondary services they offer in response to an increasing number of alternatives to traditional printing services. Those services include mailing, shipping, and performing inventory and database management for customers. Growth in those services, coupled with increases in digital printing capabilities, will moderate the employment decline in production occupations. There will be new opportunities for workers with customer service, graphic design, or information-technology abilities.

Iron and Steel Mills and Ferroalloy Manufacturing

This is a part of the Primary Metal Manufacturing group. The BLS expects employment to dip at an annual rate of 1.4 percent, but output to rise 2.9 percent.

The decline in employment will be due primarily to increasing consolidation, improvements in productivity, and strong foreign competition. In the last few decades, automation, computerization, and changes in business practices have created a leaner workforce and reduced the number of work-hours needed to produce a ton of steel.

Despite the projected decline in the number of jobs, the BLS expects job opportunities to be good in a number of occupations – among those, all types of engineers, including mechanical, metallurgical, industrial, electrical, and civil. Companies report great difficulty in hiring these highly skilled professionals. Manufacturers will also need electrical and mechanical maintenance personnel. Navy veterans who worked in nuclear engineering departments are in great demand.

Textile Mills and Textile Product Mills; Apparel Manufacturing

Employment will continue to plunge – by an annual rate of  1.4 percent in textile mills and textile product mills and 8.3 percent for apparel manufacturers – as advances in manufacturing technology enable fewer workers to produce a greater output, and growing imports compete with domestically made products. However, job openings will arise as experienced workers transfer to other industries, retire, or leave the workforce for other reasons.

Job prospects for skilled production workers, engineers, merchandisers, and designers should be fair as the industry evolves into one that primarily requires people with good communication skills, creativity, and the skills needed to operate today’s computer-operated machines. Many skills used in this industry are comparable to those in other manufacturing industries. So workers may move between industries, depending on the opportunities available in their specialties.



About the Author

This article was written by Jay Myers