American factories are humming and manufacturers are scrambling to find workers as the pace of hiring reaches levels not seen in decades.
Friday Job report in September showed US manufacturers added another 22,000 workers in September, boosting employment in the sector by nearly 500,000 over the past 12 months.
The nearly 13 million workers employed in American factories make up the industry’s largest workforce since the Great Recession caused employment in the sector to plunge more than a dozen years ago. Since April, manufacturing employment has grown by about 4% annually, the fastest sustained pace of growth since 1984, when the sector accounted for more than double the share of U.S. jobs.
And employers say they are now struggling to fill even more jobs. The sector has had around 800,000 openings for most of the last year, despite the hiring boom, according to the Ministry of Labor’s report.
With supply chains causing problems throughout the global economy, many American companies that depended on overseas suppliers have shifted their focus to sources of parts and goods much closer to home.
“It was taking months for parts not only to be manufactured but to be encountered, and they decided they were willing to pay the cost of American manufacturing to be that much faster,” said Hayden Jennison of the Jennison Corporation, a Carnegie company , Pennsylvania, which manufactures everything from firefighting equipment to construction machinery. He said there is enough demand for his wares to staff an entire extra shift at the factory. But even if he pays $20 to $30 an hour, he can’t find the workers he needs.
“Hiring has been an issue since 2020,” Jennison said. “Hiring experienced candidates who understand the industry and understand what they are doing has been very difficult.”
Typically, factory jobs and manufacturing take a hit during economic downturns, as they did during the Great Recession. But even with fears of a recession are rising now, Industry experts don’t expect factory jobs to live up to their familiar boom-to-bust cycle this time around.
“I think we’re in uncharted territory,” said Jay Timmons, executive director of the National Association of Manufacturers. “For every 100 vacancies in the sector, we only have 60 people applying. I think it will take a while to fill that pipeline.”
Timmons said wages in the sector have risen 5% over the past year, and he expects them to continue to rise as manufacturers scramble for skilled labor.
Experts say one of the biggest problems manufacturers face in attracting workers is their perception of the nature of the job.
“We often take a look at the pictures of the fabrication and we 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 non-profit that provides consulting and training services to small and medium-sized manufacturers in northeastern Pennsylvania.
One group of employers is looking for more help: women. Manufacturing remains a male-dominated industry, with only 30% of hourly factories occupied by women, according to NAM. But that’s up from 27% just two years ago, and the Manufacturing Institute, an education and workforce 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 remains a key sector of the economy, one that pays much 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.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Hayden Jennison’s job title.