As the economy slowly grows, the job market has been improving as well. Contributing to this is improvement in the manufacturing sector. Contrary to trends in the past decade, manufacturing is returning to the U.S. and new jobs are being created in the process. However, they are not the type of manufacturing jobs you are expecting.
In the past, manufacturing jobs were shipped abroad where companies have access to cheaper labor and lower taxes. However, changes in the market have increased U.S. competitiveness. Natural gas has moved the United States towards energy independence at a lower cost. Time recently had a cover story on U.S. manufacturing by Rana Foroohar and Bill Saporito, reporting “U.S. factories increasingly have access to cheap energy, thanks to oil and gas from the shale boom. For companies outside the U.S., it’s the opposite: high global oil prices translate into costlier fuel for ships and planes, which means some labor savings from low-cost plants in China evaporate when the goods are shipped thousands of miles.”
Additionally, labor abroad is not as cheap as it used to be. Workers in China and India have been demanding more pay, and in the past 10 years U.S. companies have gotten massive concessions from labor unions. This contributes more to the decreased attractiveness of outsourcing.
Even though there are more manufacturing jobs, employers face a new problem: there are not enough qualified workers for them. Foroohar and Saporito go on to say, “Many new manufacturing jobs require at least a two-year tech degree to complement artisan skills such as welding and milling. The bar will only get higher. Some experts believe it won’t be too long before employers expect a four-year degree–a job qualification that will eventually be required in many other places around the world too.”
In the U.S., manufacturing is still viewed unfavorably. People picture workers on an assembly line performing monotonous work that requires little skill, but manufacturing today is not what is used to be. Now, most assembly is done by machine. Due to new technologies, employers need workers educated and trained in science and technology.
Students should take this into account when choosing courses of study in college. Most industries now require skills in computer science and technology. These jobs are not only in high demand, but also pay well. Maybe it’s time for students to reconsider specialized careers in manufacturing.