Ahead of the Curve: Jobs and Skills for the Future of Manufacturing

Manufacturing jobs have a future in the U.S., but the job skills that represent the future of manufacturing are more technical, and are less likely to be replaced by robots.

For a panel at the National Association of Workforce Boards forum this week, Burning Glass Technologies took another look at the data on manufacturing jobs.

Manufacturing is still a huge industry in the U.S., accounting for 1.6 million job openings in the last 12 months. But those jobs are highly concentrated in certain regions. Michigan, for example, had 260 manufacturing openings for every 10,000 people employed. Other major states for manufacturing include California, Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

The public debate about manufacturing jobs has been dominated by trade policy, but what job market data shows is that there has been a major change in the skills that manufacturing jobs demand.

Production workers—the employees on the assembly floor—are the traditional view of manufacturing jobs. Yet as Burning Glass data has shown before, the largest single set of job postings in manufacturing is for software developers (56,900 postings in the last 12 months). Production workers come in third, after sales positions. However, engineers, technicians, and machine operators are also classic manufacturing roles.

The rise of software positions in manufacturing is driven by the increasing use of computers in products: cars, programmable appliances, and all the other interconnected products that make up the “Internet of Things.”

The future of manufacturing is likely to be driven by the skills needed to build these products. You can see that suggested in the manufacturing jobs that are projected to rise—and fall—most rapidly.

The fast-rising jobs include hazardous materials workers, physical/geoscience technicians, and CNC programmers—this last being a critical part of automated production lines. CNC programmers manage the robots who do most of the routine work on assembly lines, work formerly done by production workers.

Not coincidentally, the manufacturing jobs most in decline represent those repetitive tasks that can be automated, or technology that is becoming outmoded, such as Press Operators and Grinders/Sharpeners.

Manufacturing still has a future, but if workers are going to benefit from that future, workforce agencies will have to adjust their training programs to match.

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