4 Common Misconceptions in the Manufacturing Industry

Debunking Perception: The Manufacturing Industry has an Image Problem

The manufacturing industry is at the heart of the American economy. And yet, many Americans believe it is on the decline as jobs are outsourced overseas and technology is integrated into our work lives.

Its negative reputation is compounded by the perception that manufacturing jobs are seen as low-paying, unskilled and unsafe.

As a result, there is a widening skills gap within the industry as workers retire and, based on their misconception, the next generation of potential employees choose to pursue other career fields.

How can we recover when the next generation of talent has major misconceptions about the entire industry?

4 Common Misconceptions within the Manufacturing Industry

  1. Technology is taking over the industry

  2. It’s not a safe environment in which to work

  3. There are no career opportunities

  4. The salary is not competitive

Many younger workers don’t want to join the trades based on their perception of what the job entails, and what they think the job says about them. Many think of manufacturing as an obsolete industry which has been outsourced overseas or made irrelevant by technology.

They may feel trapped by the conventional thinking to acquire a four-year degree, and dismiss trade or vocational schools as an option. Some may view production floor work as unsafe, unstable, low-pay and low-tech. That just isn’t true.

Technology is Taking Over the Industry

While artificial intelligence, cloud computing and machine learning have altered the manufacturing landscape, people are still responsible for producing most goods.

Today’s manufacturing floors are bursting with advanced technologies and require a high-level of skill and training.

The need for the human touch, oversight, critical thinking and intuition will never be replaced.

It’s Not a Safe Environment in Which to Work

Take a look around any modern manufacturing floor and you will find a clean, safety-conscious environment.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was created in 1970 to “ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers.” Workers also have expanded rights under OSHA and many are protected under a labor union.

Ensuring the safety of employees is not only required, it also reduces disruptions to productivity and curbs against profit loss.

Companies make substantial investments to mitigate safety hazards in the workplace. In 2019, manufacturing had only 3.3 total workplace injury and illness cases per 100 full-time equivalent employees, down from 4.2 injury and illness cases in 2010.

There are No Career Opportunities

Manufacturing and trades are not going away. Despite a shift toward service-based industries, manufacturing accounts for 11% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, and jobs are in high demand.

Employees entering trades can expect high-quality training in their field and plenty of opportunities for professional growth.

In a recent blue-collar worker survey, 32% of employees see themselves becoming a lead or supervisor with their current employer. The right opportunities are there for those that want them.

Several employers offer education assistance for certificates and continuing education courses. And unlike their four-year university graduate counterparts, employees in the trades aren’t saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt.

The Salary is Not Competitive

Depending on the type of job, employees working in manufacturing can expect an annual salary between $30,000 and $65,000 per year, not including health benefits, paid time off and differential or premium pay. Depending on the industry and the company, additional pay may be available based on the type of work, shift, and on the job hazards.

In 2020, the average hourly wage for production jobs was $20.08 or $41,760 annually. As employees progress in the organization to higher-skilled or management positions, annual salaries increase.

Front-line supervisors receive an average of $32.22 per hour. Pay also varies from state to state and by job. Manufacturing employees in the District of Columbia average $23 per hour, and workers in Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution earn an average hourly wage of $42.57.

Debunking Manufacturing Perceptions: Why Is This Important?

There will be over 2.1 million manufacturing jobs to fill by 2030, costing the U.S. economy over $1 trillion, according to Deloitte.

Despite record low unemployment rates, the skills gap in U.S. manufacturing is growing. Jobs are available, but there’s no one around willing to fill them, which will be an issue as the manufacturing industry grows older.

Fixing the Skills Gap in the Manufacturing Industry

The average age of a high-skilled worker is 56, and the skills gap will widen as those workers retire.

For some, it’s already a problem they are thinking about now, and for good reason. Employers have to start attracting younger workers for the future and sustainability of their workforce.

If companies can’t close the skills gap and bring in the workers they need, they will be unable to meet their production commitments to their customers. Their ability to grow and innovate will be negatively impacted, and its effects on the American economy will be devastating.

Companies must work to show young people the benefits of working within manufacturing for the industry to survive.

Samantha Gassman is a senior communications professional for a Fortune 100 defense company, where she is responsible for internal communications for 90,000 employees. She is also a freelance writer and author whose debut picture book, DEAR RAINBOW BABY, will be published in Spring 2022. Find her on LinkedIn and Medium.