U.S. Manufacturing Employment: Strong Demand, Limited Supply


Would you be shocked if I told you that that manufacturing employment is on the rise in 2012?

The good news is that manufacturing hiring was up in 2011, with more growth projected for 2012. The bad news isn’t enough trained skilled laborers in the American workforce to fill the jobs available.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal (1/19/12), the number of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. grew 1.2% in 2011, or 136,000, the first increase in employment since 1997. Some economists are predicting a 2.5% gain this year. That translates to 330,000 manufacturing jobs. According to the Journal, the hiring is occurring in sectors such as durable goods, computer and electronic products, electrical equipment and appliances, and fabricated metal products, among others. In Michigan, we are seeing a great demand for skilled CNC Prototype machinists.

The economists’ predictions of job growth this year seem to confirm a poll conducted in December by Managing Automation, a sister organization of Manufacturing Executive. That survey showed that a majority of respondents, 53.5%, have plans to hire more workers this year, a huge turnaround from the 25.6% saying so in last year’s poll.

Unemployment in manufacturing is at 8.4 percent, below the overall rate of 9.1 percent. According to the U.S. Labor Department’s latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, there were 240,000 open jobs in manufacturing in August, up by 38.7 percent from a year ago.

Why isn’t there a larger, up and coming, skilled labor workforce? I would argue it’s a perception problem that begins in the living rooms, and around the dinner tables, of American homes. With massive headlines in the popular media over the last decade showing large manufacturers shedding thousands of jobs, parents have steered their children away from apprentice programs at Community Colleges and High School classes like metal shop, for fear that there wouldn’t be jobs in manufacturing. What the headlines didn’t share is that the jobs being discarded are primarily entry level, low skill-set, “button pusher” jobs.

Many manufacturing leaders believe that U.S. manufacturing will continue to decline, unless the government helps by funding educational and training programs. As Siemens Corp. CEO Eric Spiegel was recently quoted as saying: “The old jobs are not coming back. We need to invest in education and training to get people prepared to fill these high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future,” Siemens currently has 3,000 vacancies nationwide that it’s finding hard to fill.

If the government is serious about creating jobs that directly contribute to the GDP of the United States, it needs to do two things 1) fund a PR campaign to attract the next generation skilled labor workforce 2) funnel much needed funds to high schools and community colleges to create our next generation of skilled labor talent.

For further insight, email tpalmer@diversifiedindustrialstaffing.com