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Manufacturing Jobs

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what are manufacturing jobs

Auto manufacturing is an important source of jobs in the U.S.

Credit: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images
Definition: Manufacturing jobs are defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as those that create new products either directly from raw materials or from components. These jobs are usually in a factory, plant or mill but can also be in a home, as long as products, not services, are created.

For example, bakeries, candy stores, and custom tailors are considered manufacturing because they create products out of components. On the other hand, book publishing, logging, and mining are not considered manufacturing because they don't change the good into a new product. Construction is in its own category, and is not considered manufacturing. (Source: U.S. Census, NAICS and Manufacturing)

Twelve million Americans work in manufacturing jobs, earning $77,060 (includes pay and benefits) on average. These workers produce $1.87 trillion, or 11.9%, of the nation's economic output (GDP). The U.S. is the world's largest manufacturer, at 18.2% of the total, with China a close second, at 17.6%. In fact, if U.S. manufacturing were a country, it would be the 10th largest in the world. American manufacturing alone produces more than the entire economic output of Canada or Mexico.

U.S. manufacturing workers are the most productive in the world, thanks to increased use of computers, robotics and efficient processes. Unfortunately, these same efficiencies also reduce the number of jobs by replacing workers. Manufacturing jobs are projected to decline by 10.6% by 2016 as a result. (Source: National Association of Manufacturers, Facts About Manufacturing)

Types of Manufacturing Jobs

The Census divides manufacturing industries into many sectors. Here's a summary.
  • Food, Beverage and Tobacco
  • Textiles, Leather and Apparel
  • Wood, Paper and Printing
  • Petroleum, Coal, Chemicals , Plastics and Rubber
  • Nonmetallic Mineral
  • Primary Metal, Fabricated Metal and Machinery
  • Computer and Electronics
  • Electrical Equipment, Appliances, and Components
  • Transportation
  • Furniture
  • Miscellaneous Manufacturing
If you want details about any of the industries, go to Manufacturing Index. It will tell you more about sector, inbcluding trends and prices in the industry. You'll also find statistics about the workforce itself, including fatalities, injuries and illnesses.

A second resource is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It provides a guide to the types of jobs that are in these industries. Here's a quick list:

  • Assemblers and Fabricators
  • Bakers
  • Dental Laboratory Technicians
  • Food Processing Occupations
  • Food Processing Operators
  • Jewlers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers
  • Machinists and Tool and Die
  • Medical Appliance Technicians
  • Metal and Plastic Machine Workers
  • Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians
  • Painting and Coating Workers
  • Power Plant Operators
  • Printing
  • Quality Control
  • Semiconductor Processors
  • Sewers and Tailors
  • Slaughterers and Meat Packers
  • Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators
  • Upholsterers
  • Water and Wastewater Treatment
  • Welders, Cutters, Solderers
  • Woodworkers
The BLS describes what these jobs are like, how much education or training is needed, and the salary level. It also will tell you what it's like to work in job, how many there are, and whether it's a growing field. You can also find what particular skills are used, whether specific certification is required, and how to get the training needed. This guide can be found at Production Occupations.

Changes in Manufacturing Jobs

Manufacturing processes are changing, and so are the job skills that are needed. Manufacturers are always searching for more cost-effective ways of producing their goods. That's why, even though the number of jobs are projected to decline, the jobs that remain are likely to be higher paid. However, they will require education and training to acquire the skills needed.

That's for two reasons. First, the demand for manufactured products is growing from emerging markets like India and China. McKinsey has estimated this could nearly triple, to $30 trillion, by 2025 -- accounting for 70% of global demand for manufactured goods. How will this change manufacturing jobs? Companies will have to offer products specific to the needs of these very diverse markets. As a result, customer service jobs will become more important to manufacturers.

Second, manufacturers are adopting very sophisticated technology to both meet these specialized needs and to lower costs. Here are six:

  1. Nanotechnology is creating a new era in microelectronics.
  2. Lightweight steel, aluminum and carbon fibers are making cars lighter and more fuel efficient.
  3. Bio-engineering creates more customized pharmaceuticals.
  4. 3D printing creates prototypes by combining small particles rather than by casting or stamping. However, they are being used more and more to manufacture specialized aerospace components and replacement human organs.
  5. Robots are becoming more sophisticated.
  6. Big data is being used to analyze customer needs and guide product development.
(Source: Harvard Business Review, Get Ready for the New Era of Global Manufacturing, January 31, 2013) Article updated JUne 12, 2013
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