Manufacturing Jobs Outlook for 2017

The Current Employment Statistics survey for the month of December 2016 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the manufacturing industry added 17,000 jobs. (Durable goods manufacturing added 15,000 jobs.) In general, however, since reaching a rise in employment in January, the industry has lost 63,000 jobs.

In fact, for the past years, the manufacturing sector has been losing jobs to offshore companies where the cost of labor is said to be cheaper than in the US. Thus, bringing back those jobs to the US was one of President-elect Donald Trump’s fervent campaign promises. Both he and presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders blamed free trade for the continuing manufacturing job loss, but early last year, CNN said that the 5 million manufacturing jobs lost since 2000 were being replaced by jobs in the health care, construction, and retail industries. The report also mentions that free trade alone is not the culprit but rather technology.

The Impact of Automation on Manufacturing Jobs

Robots and machines are also replacing workers. This tech trend would have happened regardless of trade. Another report shares a similar observation. It also mentions that trade is partly to blame for the manufacturing job loss, but it’s technology that is the most responsible now. It even says that they aren’t coming back, at least not most of them because in recent years, factories have been coming back, but the jobs haven’t. 

Because of rising wages in China, the need for shorter supply chains, and other factors, a small but growing group of companies are shifting production back to the U.S. But the factories they build here are heavily automated, employing a small fraction of the workers they would have a generation ago. Thus, the same report says that with this “manufacturing renaissance” comes an increase in production output, but not in jobs. 

A report by the NAM (National Association of Manufacturers) shows that manufacturers contributed $2.17 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2015. This figure has risen since the second quarter of 2009 when manufacturers contributed $1.70 trillion. 

In a recent article, The Economist likewise reiterated what both CNN and FiveThirtyEight said: Manufacturing jobs are being lost to automation, not only to China and Mexico. And the idea of slapping on tariffs to punish manufacturers who export jobs makes little sense in a world of global value chains. Every dollar of Mexican goods exported to America contains 40 cents of American goods embedded within it. 

The Current Outlook for Manufacturing Jobs

Between 2014-2024 the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts little or no change in the number of jobs for assemblers and fabricators, most of whom work in manufacturing plants, with a job outlook of -1% (little or no change). In 2014, the number of jobs for assemblers and fabricators was 1,834,000. So, in 2017, the declining trend in the number of manufacturing jobs may continue.

According to the BLS OOH, those with technical vocational training and certification are expected to have the best opportunities to be hired especially in growing, high-technology industries such as aerospace and electro-medical devices. The point is that many blue-collar workers in manufacturing are getting better paid than their counterparts in other sectors, even with less education. 

In terms of pay, the BLS OOH says the median annual wage for assemblers and fabricators in May 2015 was $30,080, or $14.46 per hour. The typical entry-level education required is a high school diploma or equivalent, although for more advanced assembly work, experience and additional training is needed.

For those employed in higher manufacturing positions, such as industrial production managers, the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) Occupational Outlook Handbook also shows a declining job outlook of -4% between 2014-2024. In 2014, the number of jobs for industrial production managers was 173,400. The median pay for this job in 2015 was $93,940 per year, or $45.17 per hour. The entry-level education required is a bachelor’s degree. 

The National Association of Manufacturers reported that in 2015, (in one of the above-mentioned sources), the average manufacturing worker in the United States earned $81,289 annually, including pay and benefits. The average worker in all non-farm industries earned $63,830. 

How to Get a Good Job in Manufacturing

With the changing times, though, and technology getting the upper hand, there is demand and need for those who would like to get ahead in the manufacturing field.  Technological know-how is needed today as a lot of equipment is high-tech. 

STEM jobs are also going to be in demand in 2017, and many jobs in the past are giving way to more advanced ones requiring a background or knowledge of STEM. Today, there are more jobs that do require college degrees, in keeping with the technological advances of the times. 

Hence, to become more productive, manufacturing is turning to technology. Yet many workers in manufacturing do not have a college education. Rather than resigning themselves to or risking losing their jobs to automation, workers and job seekers alike would do well to upgrade their skills and knowledge, especially to acquire STEM skills. If they can afford it, they should go back to school to get a higher degree, or even to just earn a certificate in any STEM course.

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