How Have Manufacturing Jobs Changed Over Time?

Posted by Michelle Ecker on February 24, 2021

Jobs within the manufacturing industry have undoubtedly changed a great deal. From innovations in technology and automation to the impact of artificially intelligent solutions on efficiency, this is an industry with a long history of adapting to fit the mold of ever-changing needs and possibilities. As we look towards the future, it’s important to note the specific changes we’re seeing as we consider how to most efficiently prepare today’s workforce to meet the impending needs of tomorrow.

Woman using manufacturing software.

The impact of technology on manufacturing

At the heart of this conversation lies the impact of technology on today’s manufacturing workforce. While workers of the past drove virtually every aspect of the manufacturing workflow by hand, over time many of these manual processes have been delegated to the work of more efficient, artificially intelligent machinery. Take Caterpillar Inc. for example, an American Fortune 500 manufacturing company whose Marine Division alone saved $400K per ship per year as of 2020 after machine learning analyzed data on how often their ship hulls should be cleaned for maximum efficiency.

Lost in translation, however, seems to be the way in which this machine intelligence impacts the workers who used to make these decisions and complete those analyses by hand. Many people seem to assume technology has simply replaced human workers within the manufacturing workplace, but the reality is that manufacturing jobs are in high demand- they’re just changing and becoming more reliant on employee ability to maintain and operate the technology being described. These jobs are by no means being replaced, in fact in 2018 alone the U.S. manufacturing industry added 327,000 jobs, which CNBC reports as the most substantial growth of any 12-month period this industry has seen since 1995.

How are manufacturing leaders keeping pace?

With time, what seems to be a growing issue among manufacturing leaders is the ability to find, hire, and retain the right talent to work in tandem with this new machinery. Alongside the introduction of newer and more intelligent tools comes a need for workers to be trained to properly use and maintain them each time a new one is introduced. At some point, manufacturing leaders and their employees may be struggling to keep up- in fact current macroeconomic analyses suggest that employer demand to retrain existing workers will outpace any job destruction caused by automation or trade.

In order to properly mitigate these staffing challenges, industry leaders of today are looking to understand the specific skills missing in the talent pipeline as they identify opportunities to better keep up. According to a recent study of this skills gap conducted by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, today’s manufacturing executives named the following five skill sets as those expected to increase most significantly in the upcoming three years:
  • Technology/ Computer Skills
  • Digital Skills
  • Programming Skills for Robots/Automation
  • Working with Tools and Technology
  • Critical Thinking Skills
Leading organizations are already taking steps to rethink the way they prepare and retain their workers in order to better emphasize this digital approach to work. They are offering training solutions to employees as they find the most efficient ways to leverage technology and keep pace with this ongoing digital transformation.

Where can leaders find these efficient training solutions?

As a leading manufacturing skills training provider, Penn Foster has a long history of providing skills training and educational programs, along with robust support and services, to the manufacturing workers of today. Penn Foster’s online and blended learning programs are delivered in a self-paced, competency-based model wrapped by comprehensive academic, professional and personal support and coaching.

From configurable training programs designed to meet specific, tailored needs of each organizational partner, to multi-year apprenticeships, Penn Foster’s skills-based portfolio of training solutions were designed to help provide upward career mobility to today’s workers while delivering productivity and efficiency outcomes within any manufacturing organization. Contact a training expert today to find out how you can leverage flexible training for your workforce.