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Manufacturing Makes a Comeback

Manufacturing has historically been a top employer in the United States. During and after World War II, it dominated the economy. Until it didn’t.

Emsi, a leading data company whose labor market insights cover more than 99 percent of the workforce, recently released a report called Manufacturing is Not Dead: The Rise of High-Skill, High-Wage Production Jobs that talks about the current state of the manufacturing industry and what its resurgence looks like.

The report notes that, between 1990 and 2007, manufacturing lost four million jobs. Then, from December 2007 to January 2010, it lost an additional two million-plus jobs. These losses made manufacturing the hardest-hit industry of the Great Recession.

These previous prolonged declines in manufacturing jobs, and persistent stereotypes portraying manufacturing jobs as dangerous and dead-end, have fostered a mindset that is difficult to overcome. The reality is that manufacturers are currently facing historic vacancies and the nation is reeling from the effects of a skills gap that only widens as the aging workforce retires. Younger workers are simply unaware that the manufacturing environment today offers tremendous career growth opportunities and great wages and benefits – without the burden of college debt.

Manufacturing has been forced to adapt, and these adaptations have built a highly innovative industry. Automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are the now quite common in manufacturing facilities, creating new efficiencies and increased output.

Since the Great Recession, manufacturing has grown by nearly one million new jobs. While below pre-recession levels, the demand for skilled workers continues to rise.

While the Emsi study indicates a national mean hourly wage for all occupations of $23.64, and a mean wage for production workers $15.90 per hour, wages alone don’t tell the whole story and these numbers are from government data. The government data doesn’t account for the reality of what’s happening in production: more and more manufacturing jobs straddle the line between pure production and engineering. Locally, manufacturers are starting most production workers at higher wages than this report indicates, and quickly upskilling and increasing wages as performance increases.

The study clearly documents that manufacturing jobs are in high demand. They offer a lot of room for workers to grow and train and upskill their way into increased earnings. One of the primary recommendations for employers? Be willing to pay. If jobs pay too little, jobseekers will opt for other industries that require less training and offer the same or higher compensation.

Next month, Thrive Economic Development, the Jefferson County Economic Development Consortium and the City of Jefferson will release a study that addresses the question of labor availability at a local level. Specifically, the study sought to determine who among the working age in Jefferson, Dodge and surrounding counties would be willing to take a job in manufacturing, and most importantly, what pay and benefits would be required in order for them to accept manufacturing jobs. Preliminary data suggests that there is a pool of workers willing to accept jobs in manufacturing. We’ll share the report findings in April.

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