Manufacturing jobs for the 21st century

04.03.2013


Manufacturing for the 21st century.
Manufacturing for the 21st century.

Of all the sectors in the country, manufacturing received some of the heaviest blows during the recession, and the bruises seem to be healing more slowly than in other sectors.

In Michigan, where the heart of America's auto manufacturing industry lies, companies weathered an especially difficult recession. However, the pickup in demand for manufacturing workers in this area reflects a nationwide increase in the number of manufacturing jobs that are becoming available, Crain's Detroit Business reports.

These new jobs, however, are not the manufacturing positions of previous decades. Instead, they require highly technical skills and experience that match the evolution of manufacturing processes. According to the news source, there were 25,900 new engineering and designer job postings and 15,600 postings for skilled trades and technicians. This provides clear evidence that the jobs are out there, waiting for the right candidate to fill the position. 

High skill levels, higher salaries
Rising right along with the skills required for these jobs are the salaries. Engineering and design workers' hourly pay has been rising closer to the 90th percentile, as have earnings for skilled trades and technical workers. 

The demand for qualified workers is only expected to rise in the coming years. According to a report from Georgetown University, by 2018, about 63 percent of all job openings across the country will require a college education. This is up from 56 percent in 1992. The trend is particularly prominent in Michigan's manufacturing industry, where in 2012, 45 percent of all positions required some level of college education. In 2007, this number was just 21 percent. 

Specifically, manufacturing jobs require advanced training in information technology skills – a relatively new requirement in the country's manufacturing facilities. In 2007, job posting sites could place about 14 percent of their manufacturing jobs in their "computer and mathematical" categories. In only five years, this rose to 17 percent, and in the Detroit area, more than 30 percent of the top 10 manufacturing positions required a firm grasp of IT knowledge.

"Almost universally — irrespective of their career plans — today's workers must have more education, experience and experience with relevant technology," wrote Lisa Katz, executive director of the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan. "Occupational fields where this is not the case are increasingly hard to come by."

Katz added that it is "essential" for the government, education leaders and industry representatives to work together to better prepare job seekers for careers that require more advanced training and experience. This would benefit "all of us," she said, "raising worker earnings and [leading to] more productive employees that support a stronger, more healthy economy."

The skills gap theory
This evolving manufacturing workforce, coupled with reports that show more employers are bringing back their factory jobs from overseas, has spurred talk of a potential skills gap in the U.S. However, a 2012 report from the Boston Consulting Group found that these worries may have been overblown, Forbes reports. 

The BCG report showed the U.S. could potentially be lacking somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 skilled manufacturing workers. However, considering that makes up less than 1 percent of the 11.5 million manufacturing employees in the country, and not even 8 percent of the 1.4 million jobs that require highly technical skills, the purported gap likely won't be a major factor in the years ahead. 

According to the news source, the demand for skilled factory workers has actually been rising for nearly a decade. Between 2005 and 2012, such job openings have jumped 38 percent, and this momentum isn't expected to slow down anytime soon as the economy continues to heal.