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Not your grandpa’s manufacturing

By Hannah Taphorn on 12/05/2016

We often hear that manufacturing jobs just “aren’t what they used to be.” And that’s correct.

In the past few decades, these once labor-intensive jobs have been replaced by technology-intensive jobs. Amazon’s Hebron distribution center is a perfect example of this transformation. Rather than having a human moving merchandise pallets at the company’s distribution center, a giant robot will do the manual labor. Amazon still needs people to program the robots, update software and fix anything that may break.

Cincinnati Incorporated, another local example, designs and builds machines that are used to build other machines. Not only does the company need sophisticated programmers used to working with technology like 3D printers, it needs someone who can program the 3D printer to create intricate, highly technical pieces of machinery.

Making the workplace safer

Automation is not only creating highly skilled jobs for humans, it is also making the workplace safer. If two forklift robots collide or a pallet unexpectedly collapses, no people are at risk of injuries. Machines are also less impacted by sparks flying on the production floor – and they cannot develop carpel tunnel syndrome or risk fatigue-related injuries.

The new manufacturing jobs

These new IT-focused manufacturing jobs mean the labor pool is more difficult to find. Every industry is competing for well-trained IT professionals, making them a scarce commodity, and resulting in companies paying a premium for talented workers.

Additionally, skilled manufacturers require special certifications, which cost time and money – something not all workers have. Bottom line: Talented workers who are properly certified and able to start producing for a company the first day they are hired are extremely difficult to find.

This may be part of the reason we are seeing manufacturing wages rise faster than wages in the rest of the Greater Cincinnati economy. In fact, median wages and salaries increased from $54,174 in 2006 to $67,909 in 2016. That’s a 25 percent increase, which is faster than the 23 percent increase seen across all industries. The median wage increased enough that a manufacturing worker today has more purchasing power than his or her relatives who worked in more traditional manufacturing jobs.

Greater Cincinnati still has an abundance of available manufacturing talent. The region continues to increase its concentration of manufacturing jobs even while the number of those jobs decreased by almost six percent in the last 10 years.

While a manufacturing job today may not look the same as one created 30 years ago, it’s still a great job to have. Like any industry, today’s manufacturers simply need a different set of workers’ skills to remain competitive.

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