Guest Post: Manufacturing Perceived as Less Desirable Career

By Brad Watts, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research

A recently released survey sponsored by the Manufacturing Institute asked a sample of Americans about their perceptions of the manufacturing sector and found an interesting split between the views of the importance of manufacturing and the desirability of manufacturing jobs. Previous blog entries have examined the issue of both job shortages and worker shortages in the manufacturing sector and shown that both sides of the hiring equation face challenges. The results of the Manufacturing Institute survey, however, brings to mind the possibility that many workers may hold a negative view of manufacturing employment, which could make these positions less desirable to job seekers.

Overall, public perception of the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. economy was high in the survey. Strong majorities of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the manufacturing sector is very important to the nation’s economic prosperity, standard of living, and national security. However, when it comes to the employment in manufacturing, a sizable portion of respondents did not agree when asked questions about the quality and desirability of jobs in the manufacturing sector. The table below shows the percentage of survey respondents that indicated that they “strongly agree” or “agree” to select items from the survey.

As shown on the chart on the right, a majority of respondents still feel that manufacturing careers are interesting and rewarding; however, the 41 percent that do not agree with this statement represent a sizable portion of the public. More discouragingly, half of respondents do not agree that manufacturing jobs are clean and safe, which suggests that many prospective workers may consider the field to be undesirable.  Additionally, less than half of respondents agreed that manufacturing jobs have high pay or stability when relatively compared to other industries, which likely reflects the substantial layoffs that the sector has endured in the past.  Overall, these perceptions suggest a largely negative view of manufacturing jobs by the American public, which could certainly impact the ability of manufacturing firms to find and hire the workers necessary to fuel their recovery.

The survey from the Manufacturing Institute offers a unique insight into public perceptions of the manufacturing sector.  Anyone involved in manufacturing or interested in the how the future of the sector will play out should take the time to examine the full survey results, which contain additional insights into concerns such as worker skills and education, international trade, industry costs, and public policy.

Brad Watts can be reached at Watts@upjohn.org.  Originally posted Sept. 20, 2011 on the Upjohn Institute blog.