In many ways, manufacturing in America has never been doing better. The National Association of Manufacturers’ quarterly Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey found that, over the past nine consecutive quarters, more than 90 percent of manufacturers reported being positive about their company’s outlook—record-setting optimism dating back to the first quarter of 2017. Moreover, 2018 was the best calendar year in the survey’s history. Thanks in no small part to the pro-growth policies like tax reform coming out of Washington, manufacturers across the country have been growing, investing, raising compensation and generating the most jobs in one year since 1997. Since the passage of tax reform, the sector has hired 289,000 workers, which speaks to the robust growth in activity seen since then.
This growth also underlines a burgeoning crisis. Simply put, the manufacturing industry is creating more open jobs than there are skilled workers to fill them. This so-called skills gap challenge is hardly a new one for the industry, but manufacturing’s recent economic success has exacerbated it to the point where it is now a full-blown workforce crisis. It will take a comprehensive effort from the public and private sectors to align education options with the well-paying manufacturing jobs that are out there. In other words, solving this challenge will not be easy. The task can at least be made clearer if we first have a better understanding of what jobs need to be filled, where they are and what kinds of skills are needed.
To that end, this paper seeks to shed light on some of the opportunities to continue the positive momentum in the manufacturing industry. It undertakes in-depth analysis of the employment trends in manufacturing, a sector-by-sector breakdown of recent job openings, identification of states where manufacturing jobs are located and identification of the in-demand skills needed to fill them.