The Truth Behind Some of the Biggest Myths about Manufacturing Jobs


When you think about manufacturing jobs, what comes to mind?

For many people, their perception of manufacturing jobs is based on old, outdated information, and those who work in the industry admit that manufacturing has an image problem. It largely comes down to major misconceptions about the vitality of the industry, the types of jobs available, and the working conditions of manufacturing plants. However, the truth is that the U.S. manufacturing industry has thousands of fantastic, high-paying jobs, and manufacturing workers are more satisfied with their careers than the average American employee.

If you’ve ever considered — or talked yourself out of — pursuing a manufacturing job, check out the reality behind some of the most common manufacturing myths and see where you stand at the end.

Myth 1: U.S. manufacturing is in decline and there aren’t many viable jobs.

If we had a false-o-meter, this statement would land on “liar, liar, pants on fire.” The truth is the manufacturing industry really needs employees. In Q1 2019, more than 25% of manufacturers had to turn down new business opportunities due to a lack of workers. With more than 2.6 million baby boomers retiring from manufacturing throughout the upcoming decade, there aren’t nearly enough younger employees entering the manufacturing workforce to fill all those open jobs. And the manufacturing industry doesn’t just need warm bodies to fill roles — they need skilled workers to fill the knowledge gap left by the retiring baby boomers.

The 2018 Deloitte Skills Gap in Manufacturing Study estimates that there will be more than 2 million unfilled jobs in manufacturing between 2018 and 2028, creating a potential $2 trillion economic impact. Manufacturing executives are understandably worried about their ability to meet customers’ demands with the widening skills gap and lack of young employees. The Deloitte study reveals that 89% of executives in U.S. manufacturing have experienced a talent shortage, and it’s impacting companies’ bottom lines.

READ MORE: How to Attract Younger Employees to the Manufacturing Industry

Myth 2: Manufacturing jobs don’t pay very well.

There’s a lot to unpack in this false statement. First, it’s important to point out that, overall, the average manufacturing job is worth about $17,000 more per year in pay and benefits than the average non-manufacturing or service industry position. Second, manufacturing is a huge industry with a wealth of different types of sub-industries and professions. So, it’s difficult to look at the compensation for all jobs in a lump sum.

The 2018 Manufacturing Compensation Report breaks it down, explaining that the average compensation for hourly manufacturing workers is $64,014 and $111,731 for salary workers. These numbers include base pay, commission, and any dividends/stock options. Additionally, 68% of hourly workers and 73% of salary workers reported a wage increase in the last year (2017).

The report does explain that top-end salaries (those around $100,000+) saw about a 6% decrease from 2017-2018. Despite this, manufacturing management compensation is still incredibly competitive. Manufacturing engineering, the highest-paying job function, is still around $124,477 per year. Product design and development was the second-highest paying job at around $105,348 per year.

It’s also important to note that not all manufacturing industries have the same compensation outlook. For example, the textile and apparel segment experienced a 29% salary decrease overall in the past few years, while the petroleum and coal segment saw a 22.5% salary increase. Furthermore, not all areas of the country compensate manufacturing workers the same. The 2018 Compensation Report shows that manufacturing managers in the South Central U.S. earned the highest salary ($125,000), and those in the Southwest earned the lowest ($104,000).

Myth 3: Manufacturing jobs are dirty and physically taxing.

Don’t live in the past! Manufacturing has come a long way since its birth in the Industrial Revolution. Thanks to federal regulations, research and development, and overall societal advancements, manufacturing plants are a far cry from their earlier iterations. In many cases, robotics and advanced machinery handle the physically taxing jobs, while humans manage their technological counterparts from ergonomically designed control rooms.

The perception that manufacturing jobs are dirty is just that: a perception. Most of the time, workers operate in safe, clean environments. Plus, manufacturers are now required to comply with strict regulations and worker safety protocols. But manufacturing is a huge industry that encompasses incredibly diverse segments. Some manufacturing jobs might involve working with lubrication, metal, sharp tools, heating equipment and more, while many others require sitting behind a computer. Think of it like a “choose-your-own-adventure” story, where you get to decide the conditions that are right for you. Oh, and when Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, created a list of the top 10 dirtiest jobs in America, manufacturing didn’t even make the list!

The more important question to ask is: do manufacturing employees find satisfaction in their jobs? The 2018 IndustryWeek Salary Survey found that 67% of workers in manufacturing jobs reported they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their current employment. Similarly, 69% of manufacturing leaders were either satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. Meanwhile, only about 18% reported that they are likely or very likely to look for another job that year. In comparison, about 51% of U.S. workers said they were satisfied with their jobs in 2017, and a staggering 70% were actively looking for a new job. Let’s chalk that up as a “win” for manufacturing!

READ MORE: Investigate the Top Tech Advancements in Manufacturing

Myth 4: Women aren’t welcome in the manufacturing industry.

Over the past several years, the manufacturing industry has invested in figuring out how to recruit and attract more women to manufacturing. While women only account for about 29% of the manufacturing workforce currently, employers want to dramatically increase this number! As we know, the manufacturing industry is hurting for incoming employees, so it is incredibly invested in closing the gender gap.

There are a few initiatives happening right now to attract more women to manufacturing. The Manufacturing Institute is promoting women in manufacturing through their STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production) Ahead initiative. STEP Ahead helps set up mentorships for women in manufacturing and recognizes the many contributions women make to the industry. Over 670 women have been recognized by STEP from 2013-2017.

Additionally, the industry is bringing together female ambassadors, communities, and academics to foster more female involvement in the industry and promote the diverse range of manufacturing jobs available. And these efforts have paid off so far:

  • In 2017, 29% of women reported that they thought the school system encouraged female students to pursue a career in manufacturing vs. 12% in 2015.
  • In 2017, 42% of women actively encouraged a female relative to pursue a career in manufacturing, in contrast to 24% in 2015.
  • 58% of women reported that they observed positive changes in the industry’s attitude toward female professionals over the past five years.

There’s certainly more room to increase the number of women in manufacturing, but the industry is making strides! Women are welcome and encouraged to join the industry. And they’ll gain valuable skills and a rewarding career in the process.

READ MORE: Get the Details on the Gender Gap in Manufacturing

Kelly Mantick
About the Author

SolidProfessor academic content writer and amateur hula hooper