Just How Healthy Is The US Manufacturing Job Market?

I’m not one to rely solely on statistics to tell the entire story. There are usually intangibles – the human element, seemingly unrelated activity – that fill in the blanks.

We’re seeing a seemingly endless stream of upbeat manufacturing stories lately, that either extol the latest bump in US manufacturing performance or predict an ‘imminent’ boon. But the bottom line in any economy is jobs. Well-paying, stable jobs that nurture and allow for growth and progressive development of talent. And I believe there are two keys that trump all the fluctuating ISM PMI surveys and economic fits & starts in vertical sectors.

It’s all about the jobs, and the people that fill them. And everything else is hooey.

For a more accurate overview of the health of US manufacturing employment, let’s first look at the people.

This past week, Monster – the ginormous Web-based employment site – released the results of a survey of manufacturing workers in the US. It paints a dark picture of the mindset of our industrial workforce and the lack of options they have to advance in their careers.

Infographic from Monster -  Survey of Manufacturing Workers (select for full-size).

Infographic from Monster – Survey of Manufacturing Workers (select for full-size).

Among their findings (as published in the WSJ):

  • Close to one-half (47%) of manufacturing workers surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with their current job
  • Only 34% expressed confidence in actually securing a new position
  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) agree that it’s more challenging to find a job than it was a year ago

Also from the survey (see the Infographic from Monster to the right), only 27% feel their employers are willing to offer higher compensation than they were a year ago, while less than half feel their employers provide adequate training to support their current jobs.

So, not only is the confidence of what remains of our industrial base in the tank – these folks also are seeing anemic investment within the companies for which they work.

And if it’s accurate that there aren’t many options for new jobs, that would suggest to me that the lack of talent-directed investment is prevalent across many companies.

I have no doubt that there are many forces at work here. Some people will complain just for the sake of complaining. Often, perceptions are shared among groups – like mob mentality. And certainly, folks often listen to doom & gloom from others and adopt it for themselves: hook, line & sinker.

But these results point to a troubling condition within the ranks. Let’s be overly conservative for a moment, and slash these percentages by a quarter. Would those results then make us feel that we’re making acceptable progress?

Yeah, me neither.

Next, consider the actual number of jobs created within and by US manufacturing. As a benchmark to measure how we’re doing, let’s use President Obama’s pledge to create 1-million manufacturing jobs during his second term (from 1/12 to 1/17).

The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) has taken it on to keep a monthly tracker of our progress to the 1-million jobs goal, along with month-to-month progress. You can visit the AAM site to view the monthly reports; here’s the updated tracker below:

So, how’re we doing? The short answer is, not very well. Through the 1st 7 months of this 48-month journey, US manufacturing has added only 24,000 jobs. This according to the government’s own BLS jobs data via AAM.

That’s 0.24% of goal. Maintaining this rate of job growth will give us a bit over 165,500 jobs at the end of the 48-month stretch.

Despite what you read – about new initiatives, about rising production, about economic green shoots – we have yet to see meaningful growth in manufacturing jobs at any levels worth more than a ‘meh.’

Look, no one wants to see growth and vitality in our manufacturing sector more than I. At this point, politicizing this only creates more barriers. And we don’t need any more barriers than we already have. But what we’re doing clearly ain’t cuttin’ it up to this point. That may change soon, and it’d better – and pretty dramatically, too.

There are other indicators to measure our (in)effectiveness in revitalizing our manufacturing base – the trade deficit comes to mind as a wonderful litmus test for that.

But what we’re hearing from our workers and seeing in the raw numbers can’t be spun.

The health of our job market can only be described by a word familiar to some of us of a certain age, and is completely appropriate:

US manufacturing job creation is in a malaise.

AJ Sweatt
  1. AJ — As usual, you provide an insightful look beyond the statistics.

    While those of us here at SME also found this infographic interesting, we noted that their “47% of manufacturing workers” is restricted to the shop floor employees. Manufacturing includes Part, Process, Machine, System and there are many jobs important to manufacturing not covered in this report.

    What would that percentage of dissatisfied workers be if it truly covered ALL manufacturing workers?


    • Thanks for the note, Lori. That’s an awfully interesting observation, and poignant. But like most organizations, I’d bet the higher up the organization you go the less frustration – or, at least different sources of frustration. At least that’s been my experience. But whether we consider these results from academic or anecdotal perspectives, I’d say the shop floor is by far the worst place to find this sort of condition. It’s where productivity and quality happen.

  2. Excerpt from my blog mentioning this blog yesterday:

    Manufacturing jobs will never look the same and the type of satisfaction from current manufacturing employees most likely will be mixed, as this evolution into advanced manufacturing technology jobs plays out. This is evident in a great summary of Monster’s Manufacturing Job survey, by manufacturing blogger, AJ Sweatt, in his most recent blog post, Just How Healthy Is The US Manufacturing Job Market?, where he states: “US manufacturing job creation is in a malaise.” Of course it is. The same type of manufacturing jobs are not being created, which don’t meet the expectations of an aging generation, who’s every day life was of the reality of old factories that employed thousands of workers. The real issue at play here is an industry in major flux. Manufacturing in America is facing a gap between an aging workforce, tough economic times due to the recent recession, new regulation, and a need to attract a younger generation who views manufacturing the same way the workers in this survey view manufacturing: not bright.

    However, over time, as more positive stories come out, and the use of advanced manufacturing technology increases, and more and more millennials join the workforce, I see this rut playing out just fine, as millennials will be attracted to the technology and cool factor of entrepreneurship. I see manufacturing not as perfect, but is set up really well for a great long term future. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will the evolution of Manufacturing happen in a day or even in just a couple years. We are all in it for the sustainable long haul. I for one am curious to see where Advanced Manufacturing takes us as a country, and am thrilled to see we are the leader with 60% of the market in 3D printing, and that the Wall St. Journal is covering the leaders such as GE and Nike, so others follow suite.

    Full blog here: http://cerasis.com/2013/08/15/advanced-manufacturing-technology/

    AJ, I am still curious to see the impact of jobs in circles of indirect jobs. For example, we hired a programmer in Tulsa the other day to build out our mobile strategy for our software. He is not directly employed by manufacturing, but as manufacturing leaders become more ingrained into efficiency and using tools to allow the manufacturer to focus on their core products themselves, it creates industries such as logistics service providers and software companies to support manufacturers. In hiring this 26 year old developer, we are now exposing him to the manufacturing industry, whereas he might not have otherwise. Curious to hear the “Trickle down” affect that increased output from efficiency, over the long term, will have on GDP and related but indirect manufacturing jobs.

  3. Good article, the data from Monster is telling, but doesn’t account for the entire picture! I believe that many more factors come into play than the limited conclusions based on a single source. Manufacturing has been dying a slow death for decades now. The current wave is the result of the near depression all collapse created by the failure of the financial markets which de-regulation created.
    The government failure to deal with our debt crisis, hyperpartisian politics, gridlock, and the choice of party over country leads to uncertainity. Business requires long term conditions to be known to base any constructive plans for growth! Kicking the time bomb down the road and the seven minutes to midnight deals to prevent default guarantee further deterioration of our manufacturing base.
    Most large companies are sitting on mountains of cash, ready to invest in manufacturing here, but almost getting burned in the last crash they will continue to outsource until the government can function and negotiate.
    Until the gang of old white men in our government die off or the American people get tired of the same ole, same ole as the accepted political reality and vote the idiots out of office, manufacturing will continue overseas.
    Globalization has contributed to the loss of manufacturing, it just makes good business sense to manufacture overseas for many reasons. No unions, cheaper labor, cheaper material costs, lack of insane regulations, better incentives, cheaper utilities costs, insurance nightmares, etc., on and on. In this day and age, you’d better be manufacturing overseas or your competors will put you out of business. The real future of growth potential is where the manufacturing has moved! It is not the case of the decline of the American manufacturing prowess but the rise of the rest of the world trying to gain our standard of living.
    Our so called leaders decided decades ago to give tax breaks to large corporations to manufacture overseas. It’s far easier to fudge the numbers, take advantage of lax banking practices, and bury your cash overseas.
    We want to lay the blame on someone else’s doorstep, the government, foreigners, regulation, etc., the excuses are legion, kinda depends on who is doing the telling!
    We are to blame, we elected the inmates to run the asylum and continue to allow big money to control our destiny! It’s all a game, entertainment is the opiate of the masses! Until Americans reach the tipping point and demand real change and vote for it, the American Empire will fall! Gridlock breeds apathy and polarization to the point of no return! We pine for a world that no longer exists instead of laying the foundations of the future! We shot ourselves in the foot decades ago, now we are blowing off arms and legs! Manufacturing is going, going, about gone!

Your Name Email Website