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Good-bye blue collar, hello gold collar
The manufacturing industry is one hot industry in terms of careers. Yes, you heard it right, manufacturing in North America is no longer on life support. There are jobs out there — it’s just that these jobs are, well, anything but the typical assembly line gig that people associate with manufacturing.
Here's a snapshot of the manufacturing scene today. In Canada, the sector has enjoyed a cyclical rebound from the recession, with machinery and transportation manufacturing output increasing 40 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively, between June, 2009 and December, 2011, according to this TD Economics report. And on a world-wide level, about 10 million manufacturing jobs cannot be filled because of a shortage of skilled workers, says this report released by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. “[T]he sharpest increase in postings for skilled workers — 152 per cent — has occurred in the last three or so years,” according to this recent Manufacturing Jobs Boom is For Real article in CNNMoney.
These so-called "gold collar" manufacturing careers all require high-tech skills and computer literacy as well as critical thinking and problem-solving ability, good reading and math skills and mechanical ability, says the Advanced Manufacturing Career Collaborative.
The changing manufacturing landscape
Highly skilled jobs have popped up because the manufacturing scene is transforming on a deep level. The Economist has put together a special report that provides an excellent overview of what is happening in the industry or about to happen. According to one article in The Economist, “[a] number of remarkable technologies are converging: clever software, novel materials, more dexterous robots, new processes (notably three-dimensional printing) and a whole range of web-based services.” Because of these changes it now costs less to customize goods, so instead of mass production of identical goods the factory of the future will focus on mass customization instead. The article also notes that “[o]ffshore production is increasingly moving back to rich countries … because companies now want to be closer to their customers so that they can respond more quickly to changes in demand.”
In The Atlantic's Making it in America, a look at manufacturing in the USA, author Adam Davidson points out that one machine can automatically perform a series of operations that previously would have required several machines — each with its own operator. In factories, the worker is just there to program, fix or troubleshoot machines, “the bending of metal and the extruding of plastic and the shaping of products” is being done more and more by advanced machines, says Davidson in an interview about manufacturing for National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation.
Big change is also taking place in Canada. In this article in The Globe and Mail, author Barrie McKenna illustrates what is happening in the manufacturing sector by focusing on that quintessentially Canadian company, Maple Leaf Foods Inc. This large meatpacker is in the process of closing five aging plants and replacing them with one highly automated factory in Hamilton. “The result: 1,550 jobs lost, but one plant capable of cranking out more hot dogs, bacon and cold cuts than the five it replaces.”
Some “hot” manufacturing jobs
In a sector that is becoming more and more automated and that focuses more on customization, it is those with education and skills who will be left standing. Moneyville’s Manufacturing Jobs Are There for the Highly Skilled article stresses that would-be manufacturing workers now need a strong skill set in industrial trades, engineering, design, marketing, research, science or business. “I would tell young people not to consider a career in manufacturing unless they have a technical trade, some post-secondary qualification or certificate,” says Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, in this article.
There are numerous jobs that are in demand in the new manufacturing landscape. The aforementioned Moneyville article notes that the “hottest openings” in manufacturing are for such trades as machinist and tool-and-die maker. In this blog post, Marty Nemko interviews several manufacturing types, who talk about the need for people in the areas of electronic technology, metal fabrication and welding. “Today’s welder might, for example, monitor 10 robotic welders, interpret blueprints, and troubleshoot systems,” notes Mike Smeltzer of the Manufacturer’s Association of South Central Pennsylvania.
Smeltzer, along with Phyllis Eisen of the National Association of Manufacturers' Institute and Stephanie Harkness, of Pacific Plastics and Engineering, all agree that community college often the best training for manufacturing jobs. “A course or two in quality assurance and CAD/CAM can be tickets into some of the most rewarding manufacturing jobs,” says Harkness.
There is also a strong need for engineers in manufacturing. This career website from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers profiles five engineering specialties found in the sector: industrial, health and safety, quality, robotics and manufacturing engineers.
Furthermore, the Advanced Manufacturing Career Collaborative (AMC²) site states that new evolving technologies will provide career opportunities for people with training in areas such as nanofabrication. (One career in this latter field is nanotechnologist, which is described in Alberta Occupational Profiles). Another promising field that the AMC² site mentions is robotics. George Brown College offers an online robotics technician program that can be completed in just over six months. As well, Centennial College’s Advanced Manufacturing and Automation Technology School delivers automation and robotics programs.
Finally, some of the most in-demand jobs involve skills in computerized numerical control (CNC) manufacturing. These jobs are so hot that we decided to devote an entire article to them.
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