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21st Century Manufacturing Jobs

Posted on November 12, 2013 in Manufacturing

Of the many business sectors in the United States, manufacturing suffered the greatest employment impact during the Great Recession. Continuing a steady decline since the 1980s, manufacturing is generally an indicator of changes in business cycles. Nevertheless, these bruises appear to be healing slowly since the recession ended in 2009.

Some industry experts project that manufacturing jobs are poised for a significant comeback. Corporations are beginning to bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas where labor costs are beginning to rise. Estimates are that these changes could create nearly five million U.S. manufacturing and support jobs over the next 10 years.

Michigan still represents the auto manufacturing, which grew to being a top job producer in the industry. The past and present of manufacturing in the country is merging with technological advances to create 21st century jobs in manufacturing.

Manufacturing Jobs of the Past

Manufacturing has a long standing reputation as the industrial sector that produces machinery, equipment, parts and every product used by consumers. Many different areas of manufacturing exist including apparel, food, automobile, chemicals and electronics. These areas demanded manufacturing jobs in the past that required low skills.

Typically, people employed in manufacturing are considered production workers. Skills necessary rely on an assembly line style environment. Workstations and individual cells may also exist based on the products being produced. Entry-level workers are usually responsible for making the products.

Staff needed for technical support largely depends on the manufacturing process of a company. Most will use support personnel such as supervisors, technicians and material handlers. For example, an electronics manufacturer and clothing manufacturer use technicians, but each requires a different skill set.

Other manufacturing jobs born out of the industrialization era, which are classified as skilled trades and technicians include: • Machinists who use technical drawings and operate specialized equipment to make parts of a product. • Assemblers who work on assembly lines to perform one step in a multi-step assembly process. • Welders may use electricity or heat tools to join pieces of metal together for a finished product. Many refer to specs and blue prints to complete tasks.

New Manufacturing Jobs for a New Economy

Technological advances in robotics and computers have placed U.S. manufacturing workers as the most productive worldwide. While improvements to efficient processes have also increased productivity levels, these same efficiencies have also led to a decline in manufacturing jobs from the industrialization era. These jobs are expected to decline 10.6 percent by 2016 due to technology replacing workers.

In their place are manufacturing jobs of the future, which require highly technical skills. The changes are evidenced by an increase in engineering and designer positions, and simultaneous decreases for skilled tradesmen and technicians. Workers in the manufacturing industry in this new economy will need to match skill and experience with the evolution of the industry.

Manufacturers have always searched for cost-effective ways to meet demand and produce goods. Efficiency is connected to productivity among workers with a skill set that requires more education and training. This trend in new manufacturing jobs is the result of increasing consumer demand from emerging markets.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that growth in China and India alone will triple by 2025 to $30 trillion. To meet this growing demand, manufacturers will have to produce products that meet the needs of diverse markets.

The adoption of sophisticated technology is the other driver for new manufacturing jobs. Among new technology exploits that will help to lower costs and meet specialized needs are: • Nanotechnology – leading to a new era in microelectronics • Automobiles – cars are becoming lighter and fuel-efficient with materials such as lightweight steel and carbon fibers • Bioengineering – customized medicines for pharmaceutical manufacturers • Robots – 1 in 3 military aircraft drones; over 700 robots used on the Ford assembly line in Louisville, KY • 3D printing – creation of prototypes to manufacture human organs and aerospace components • Big data – to analyze customer needs and habits to guide product development Higher Skills Equal Higher Salaries

The philosophy of paying workers a livable so they can afford the products they are making is attributed to Henry Ford. In 1914. Ford instituted the $5 a day wage to expand the consumer market for his cars. Today, a living wage for manufacturing greatly exceeds $5 for jobs that require higher skill levels.

As technology, growing demand and efficient production change the face of manufacturing jobs, employees can expect higher salaries. The hourly pay for skilled trades, technical workers, engineers and design workers continues to rise.

Demand for these highly skilled workers is also expected to increase as fewer people are trained to fill positions. This makes 21st century manufacturing jobs a lucrative career for those who currently meet the qualifications.

An increasing need will continue for technicians who are trained to meet the specialized needs new technology demands. These skilled workers will need to apply technology tools within a manufacturing context. Knowledge workers will take center stage as higher paying jobs will require a more sophisticated workforce. Furthermore, some higher level positions will also integrate with line manufacturing work.

This has not always been the case with manufacturing positions in the U.S. In general, a person could graduate from high school, work in a manufacturing plant and earn a middle-income salary. Today, many manufacturing jobs require knowledge in IT and other specialized skills in technology. Fewer jobs are left where only a high school education is enough.

Dealing with the Skills Gap

The evolving manufacturing workforce is prompting more discussion about the skills gap between job seekers and manufacturing needs. A 2011 survey by Deloitte of 38,000 manufacturers reported that 82 percent believe there is a moderate to serious shortage of skilled workers. Industry experts are calling on educators, the government and industry leaders to join forces in preparing workers for the shift in manufacturing.

This will require targeted investments in advanced training and work experience for a 21st century economy. Doing so not only positions job seekers to increase their earning power, but it can also support a stronger, healthier economy.

Partnerships and programs are being launched across the country to solve skills gaps. Additionally, some manufacturing firms are offering online training for current workers to improve their skills. Military veterans are another pool for accelerated training in specialized skills. Many veterans already have military training in transferable skills for manufacturing.

There are other qualifications that manufacturers are looking for in addition to technical skills. Some manufacturers want workers who can fill traditional management-oriented abilities in the process. Knowledge workers are becoming invaluable for making contributions to improve quality and production.

Shifting Dynamics in Global Manufacturing Jobs

The new era of 21st century manufacturing jobs will usher in more opportunities for industry leaders. New emerging markets have opened the spigot for growth in many different manufactured products. New players in developing economies will also fill the scene resulting in increased productivity and innovation around the globe.

Many manufacturers are rethinking location strategies for work facilities. As a result, they are bringing jobs back to U.S. soil. The path of lower wages is becoming less attractive for most industries where hourly labor is less than 20 percent of total costs. A bigger challenge is accessing higher skill talent for positions on the shop floor and service-oriented jobs.

Keeping in mind that manufacturing is not a monolithic industry, the wide range of sectors will have an impact on global dynamics. From R&D intensive to labor-intensive sectors, five major groups will define the success or failure of the industry. High-skill talent, for example, will be needed in pharmaceutical and automobile manufacturing.

Even as some manufacturers begin re-shoring jobs back to the U.S., this trend is not likely to reverse the long-term changes in manufacturing employment. To be sure, some losses will be restored, but the numbers will not be sufficient for the growth in demand and other dynamic forces.