The State of U.S. Manufacturing

March 1, 2010 by Emsi Burning Glass

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Much has been made of the declining state of U.S. manufacturing in recent years, which makes sense when you look at the remarkable drop-off in employment. But manufacturing is far from dead, according to fivethirtyeight.com.

The political site points out that productivity in the sector has increased in the last 15 years, and the decline in manufacturing jobs has more to do with low education levels than imports/outsourcing.

Going back to the recent post on employment remember that in this recession the unemployment rate of specific groups was heavily influenced by education level. In fact, according to the BLS, higher education levels (college graduates and above) were remarkably untouched in the latest recession while lower education levels (high school graduates, high school with some secondary education) had higher rates of unemployment. Lower levels of education are typically associated with manufacturing and construction employment — the two areas of jobs that account for the largest percentage of job losses in this recession.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times writes that US manufacturing is still facing a shortage of skilled workers — despite the widespread shedding of jobs. Nearly 20 percent of the nation’s manufacturing workforce is 54 and older.

“All large technical firms are facing similar issues, where a large part of the population is eligible to retire,” said Rick Stephens, senior vice-president of human resources at Boeing.

He said that by 2015, 40 per cent of the aircraft maker’s workers would be in that position. “That’s some 60,000 employees eligible to retire in five years. We just don’t see the [recruitment] pipeline meeting our needs.”

With this in mind, we looked at EMSI’s Career Pathways tool to see the top skills needed in two key manufacturing occupations in the advanced materials industry cluster — machinists and first-line managers of production and operating workers. Nationwide, there were more than 153,000 machinists and 159,000 first-line managers in the cluster in 2009, according to EMSI’s latest dataset.

For more on the top skills for key occupations in your region, email Josh Wright or call 208.883.3500.