Made in America is back and US factories are struggling to find workers

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new York
CNN business

US factories are humming and manufacturers are scrambling to find workers as the pace of hiring hits levels not seen in decades.

Friday’s September jobs report showed that US manufacturers hired an additional 22,000 new workers in September, increasing employment in the sector by almost 500,000 over the past 12 months.

The nearly 13 million workers employed in US factories make up that The industry’s largest workforce since the Great Recession led to a job slump in the industry more than a dozen years ago. Since April, manufacturing employment has grown at an annual rate of about 4%, the fastest sustained pace of growth since 1984, when the sector more than doubled its share of US jobs.

And employers say they are now scrambling to fill even more jobs. The industry has about 800,000 vacancies for most of last year, despite the hiring surge, according to the Labor Department report.

As supply chains cause problems throughout the global economy, many US companies that have depended on foreign suppliers have shifted their focus to sources of parts and goods much closer to home.

“It took months for parts to not only be made, but to get to market, and they decided they were willing to pay US production prices to get that much faster,” said Hayden Jennison, president of Jennison Corporation , a Carnegie, Pennsylvania company that makes everything from firefighting equipment to construction equipment. He said there was enough demand for his goods to fill an entire extra shift at his factory. But despite paying $20 to $30 an hour, he can’t find the workers he needs.

“Attitude has been an issue since 2020,” Jennison said. “It was very difficult to hire experienced candidates who understand the industry and understand what they do.”

Typically, factory jobs and manufacturing are hit in economic downturns, as they were during the Great Recession. But even if the fear of a recession is now increasing, Industry experts don’t expect factory jobs to default into their well-known boom-to-bust cycle this time around.

“I think we’re breaking new ground,” said Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. “For every 100 job offers in the industry there are only 60 people looking. I think it’s going to be quite a while before that pipeline is filled.”

Timmons said wages in the industry have risen 5% over the past year and he expects them to continue to rise as manufacturers seek skilled workers.

Experts say one of the biggest problems manufacturers face when recruiting workers is their perception of the nature of the job.

“We often look at the fabrication pictures and see the sparks flying and a welding environment and maybe it’s a bit dingy, dark. But by and large, our manufacturing jobs today are high tech,” said Eric Esoda, CEO of a nonprofit organization that provides consulting and training services to small and medium-sized manufacturers in Northeast Pennsylvania.

A group of employers are looking for more help: women. Manufacturing remains a male-dominated industry, with just 30% of hourly factory jobs held by women, according to NAM. But that’s up from 27% just two years ago, and the Manufacturing Institute, an education and human resource development arm of NAM, has various programs aimed at increasing the proportion of female workers on factory floors to 35% by 2030.

Today, less than 10% of private sector jobs are in manufacturing, compared to more than 40% at the end of World War II. But it’s still a key sector of the economy that pays far better than many others. The Department of Labor reports that the average weekly wage for manufacturing jobs is $1,250, or $65,000 annually — 11% more than private sector jobs overall and 81% more than retail jobs.

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