March 1, 2018 by Luke Mason
Prior to and throughout the Great Recession, manufacturing lost millions of jobs. This downturn, combined with the perception that any surviving jobs are low-skilled, low-paying dead ends, fairly destroyed any interest a new generation of workers might have in manufacturing.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Since the recession ended, manufacturing has made a notable comeback. Nearly one million new production jobs have returned to the economy since 2010. Job openings are up by 350%, but because of the lingering “dead-end” stigma, there aren’t a lot of young people prepared to take them. With nearly half the current manufacturing workforce age 45 or older and nearing retirement, manufacturers need younger employees more than ever.
The fact is, today’s manufacturing jobs look a lot different than they did 20 years ago. Now, they’re increasingly high-tech. They blend engineering skills—like industrial design and quality control—with traditional manufacturing skills—like welding or machining. Employers need people who can design and build products using computer-controlled machinery while simultaneously finding ways to improve efficiency. According to our latest research, these jobs also pay well, especially if workers are willing to upgrade their skills and education.
So what skills are employers looking for? Are they worth the time and attention of younger workers?
In our analysis of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs postings from 2017, we found that employers need workers well-versed in the following skill clusters:
These skill clusters demonstrate that manufacturers are looking for a hybrid of classic production skills and engineering-type skills.
There is good money to be made in each of these skill clusters, especially if you mix and match skills just right. We looked at salaries and wages reported on nearly 400,000 job postings and résumés, and blended them with detailed wage information from government sources. We found that workers with these skill clusters can earn the following salaries:
Table 1. The Effect of Upskilling on Manufacturing Jobs’ Salaries
These skills also stack and transfer well. A person could start their career in a traditional manufacturing job, then add education and training over time to qualify for an engineering or business role within the same company, or even to transfer to an industry outside manufacturing. The higher salaries and increased career opportunities would make this additional education worthwhile.
Finally, what specific skills are in demand in these manufacturing jobs clusters?
1. Lean Manufacturing/Six Sigma
Often simply referred to as “lean,” lean manufacturing is all about eliminating waste from any manufacturing process. Similarly, Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology that improves performance by removing waste and reducing variation. Manufacturers operate under precise parameters, so Six Sigma/lean manufacturing skills are critical to maintain high standards. Six Sigma skills are also highly transferable and in demand in other industries.
2. Continuous Improvement Process (CIP or CI)
CIP helps companies identify opportunities for greater efficiency in their processes, and address these opportunities with incremental changes rather than big ones. CIP is often viewed as a more informal process compared to its peers Kanban, Kaizen, Scrum, and the like.
3. Fabrication Technology
This skill uses the technology involved in fabrication. Fabrication is the process of building a metal structure by cutting, machining, welding, stamping, etc. Products can include everything from auto parts to art.
4. Welding Technologies
Welding is the fusing of materials, usually metal or thermoplastics. While many of these in-demand skills are relatively new to manufacturing jobs, welding is one of the older traditional skills—like fabrication (No. 3) and machining (No. 5)—that are still crucial.
According to Business Dictionary, machining is any process “such as abrading, cutting, drilling, forming, grinding, and/or shaping of a piece of metal or other material performed by machine tools such as lathes, power saws, and presses.” These tools can be human-operated or computer-operated. Machined parts can include things like pulleys, bolts, axle nuts, and support brackets. They’re used in industries like oil & gas, aerospace, energy, health care, and food service.
6. Product Design
Product design is the process of developing a new product for manufacturability. Designers take an idea and design a tangible product that works in the marketplace and is optimized for efficient manufacturing.
7. Corrective and Preventive Actions
Also known as CAPA, Corrective and Preventive Actions is similar to Six Sigma in that it aims to improve an organization’s processes by eliminating issues such as customer complaints, machinery failure, etc. CAPA is all about quality-control and is often required by government or other regulation agencies.
8. Quality Management Systems
If CAPA is about specific ways to identify and fix problems in any process, QMS describes the entire system. This includes documenting processes, procedures, and keeping track of who does what. The goals are to lower costs, engage staff, improve efficiency, and maintain high quality. ISO 9001:2015 is the most popular and widely implemented QMS standard in manufacturing jobs.
9. Good Manufacturing Practices
GMP ensures products are made with consistency and that they meet quality standards. GMP is particularly important within pharmaceuticals and food production in ensure products meet standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
10. Computer-Automated Technologies
True to its name, this skill involves using computer technology in the design and manufacturing of products. This includes computer-aided design (CAD) software like AutoCAD often used by engineers, architects, and construction professionals.