Why Working in the Manufacturing Industry Ain’t Like the Old Days

April 5th, 2017 Written by: Molly Masterson

Many of us are nostalgic about the old days of American manufacturing, conjuring up images of Lucille Ball frantically trying to keep up with a speedy chocolate factory line or generations of men making good, honest livings at Ford plants in Detroit.

Today, many believe the American manufacturing industry is dead. But the truth is that it’s just been reborn.

In this post, we explore how the industry has changed over the last few decades and what it’s like to work in manufacturing today.

The “Old Days”

America and manufacturing used to be synonymous with one another. In the 1940’s, almost a third of American civilians worked in the manufacturing sector. But as of 2015, that share has fallen to 8.7%, according to MarketWatch.

While free trade and outsourcing labor to factories overseas are often cited as the main culprits, technology and automation have revolutionized our factories. For example, it used to be that to produce a bicycle a company would need a collaborative effort of several workers. Each worker would specialize in a specific element of the production–the wheels, the frame, the gears, and so on.

Today, one or two workers guide machines through the process.

The Rise of a New Era

Though the decline in American manufacturing jobs since its peak in the 1980’s is an unpleasant pill to swallow, manufacturing output in America is actually on the rise, according to MarketWatch.

Robotics and machines are key contributors to the production growth spurt. They’ve made the workplace safer, and far more efficient. Unlike human workers, robots don’t need breaks and make fewer mistakes than their human counterparts.

While the big rise in output doesn’t equal the same growth in jobs, the point is that American manufacturers are making more products—and skilled workers are needed to keep that going.

Working in Manufacturing Today

Below we explore some of the key differentiators between the old days and today.

Enhanced Safety

A common myth about the manufacturing industry is that it’s not safe. Perhaps this stems from classic novels detailing the sweeping melancholy industrial factories of the 19th century.

But working in manufacturing today is healthier and safer than ever before. Heightened environment, health and safety regulations have played a major role in this. In addition, as mentioned above, the implementation of technological elements such as robots, drones, self-driving vehicles and augmented reality have led to huge safety gains.

Growing Innovation

Much like technology has made manufacturing safer for the modern worker, it’s also made the jobs more innovative. The assembly lines of the old days have given way to advanced technology such as handheld devices, 3D printers and wearable technologies.

Innovation entering the workplace adds to the skill set of the manufacturing workforce. Today’s multi-skilled manufacturing worker is able to learn how to utilize all of these technologies, which greatly increases their skillset and value.

Competitive Salaries

Wages for manufacturing jobs have also gone up in recent years, according to Trading Economics. Since the recession in 2009, the average hourly wage has increased by two and half dollars. In addition to increased wages, manufacturing workers often enjoy significant, highly-valued employer-provided benefits, including medical insurance and retirement benefits.

US Hourly Manufacturing Wages

(Photo Credit: Trading Economics)

More Than an Assembly Line

When thinking about manufacturing, many people think of the monotony of working on the assembly line, executing the same task over and over. But that isn’t always the case in today’s manufacturing.

One of the great appeals for manufacturing is the variety of work and the potential for advancement. With so many different types of jobs, getting into manufacturing allows workers to carve out a variety of career paths.

Some of the jobs available within the manufacturing umbrella include:

  • Quality control
  • Engineering
  • Management
  • Sales
  • Human resources
  • Assembly
  • Training

While manufacturing is not what it once was, the new age of manufacturing offers a ton of potential for job seekers. With increased wages, enhanced safety and exciting technology-driven innovation entering the workplace, modern manufacturing offers tremendous benefits for its future employees.

Are you thinking about a career in manufacturing? Discover the skills you’ll need to be successful.

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