Manufacturing future looks brighter

Skilled workforce among leading engineering concerns.


The worst manufacturing decline in 80 years may be over, according to subscribers of Plant Engineering magazine, but the challenges facing manufacturing continue. Primary among those concerns is a familiar issue—the lack of a skilled workforce. The 2010 Plant Engineering Salary Survey, part of the magazine’s 2011 Forecast issue in February, paints a brighter picture of manufacturing as viewed from the plant floor. Among respondents, 56% feel the recession is over, and 36% said they already see growth in their plants.

To continue that momentum, plant managers said they need skilled workers. Survey respondents again cited a lack of a skilled workforce as their top challenge in the coming year; 23% said that is the top issue they face. The skilled workforce issue was the top concern in every year of the past five, except in 2009, when the economy was the biggest concern.

The impact of an aging workforce also has been felt at the management level. While plant managers are highly educated and experienced, their average age crept up to 52 this year, maintaining a steady increase over the last six years of the survey. More than 60% of respondents are over the age of 50, and almost one-fifth, over 60.

The effect of a hiring slowdown creates other issues. “We don't pay.... I have a maintenance crew that we picked up off the street for $10 an hour and put tools in their hands. Then we wonder why management is always under the equipment working on it,” said one respondent. “Our company does not believe in paying people and cannot be convinced they should.” Another said: “The MBA mentality (is) delaying badly needed plant improvements resulting in unacceptable downtime. If we can get the investments we are promised, when we are promised them, we will be able to better maintain the plant and increase profitability.”

Despite manufacturing challenges, respondents continue to be satisfied with their careers (67%), secure in their jobs and confident in their workers (73%), and are satisfied with their compensation, the technical challenges of manufacturing, and their sense of accomplishment. Those three areas are again the top areas of job satisfaction cited.

Few Plant Engineering subscribers found social media to be a business tool. Just 10% use it on the job, and only 33% use it socially away from the job. “The venue isn't useful for business,” one reader noted. “Internet is useful for research and current events. Intranet is the only useful interactive business tool.”

See also 2010 Plant Engineering Best Practices.

- Bob Vavra, CFE Media, Plant Engineering,.

At a glance

56% feel the recession is over

36% see growth in their plants

73% are satisfied with compensation, technical challenges of manufacturing, and sense of accomplishment

60% of respondents are over 60 years of age

Also read:

Automation Future: Automotive motives for better control

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Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

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