Is the U.S. Facing a Shortage of Factory Workers?

The U.S. manufacturing sector has been shrinking steadily since before most of us were born.

So why are American factories reporting that 600,000 jobs are going vacant across the country?

The manufacturers say it’s due to a shortage of skilled workers, but Bloomberg offers a few caveats: for example, companies might be keeping these jobs unfilled due to uncertainty about the future, opting to increase overtime for existing workers instead.

Working in a high-tech modern factory also takes a lot of training even for experienced workers, and training budgets were slashed during the Great Recession. And some of the jobs are in non-production areas, like accounting. They point out that if manufacturers really wanted to fill those jobs, they would be raising wages—which obviously hasn’t happened (yet).

Still, the average age for skilled manufacturing workers is now 56, so the number of unfilled jobs is likely to keep growing—especially as more companies bring factory jobs back to the U.S.

What do you say—would you work in a factory for $23 an hour?

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15 Comments / Post A Comment

BillfoldMonkey (#1,754)

$23 an hour, is for the record, about 30% more than I make as a tenured faculty member in the humanities at a public university. (That is, 30% more assuming a 40-hour work week, which, sure, some weeks I work less than that, especially in the summer, but during the semester I often work a lot more.) So in short: maybe? Especially if they can guarantee no factory papers to grade.

OhMarie (#299)

It depends on the type and complexity of the work.

I have actually worked in a factory before. It was a small-run book bindery, and the fact that it was small-run means that it was actually not very high tech. A lot of stuff was being done by hand that wouldn’t have been if we were binding Harry Potter instead of a 400-book run of a fundraising cookbook or whatever. It’s pretty taxing to do the same thing over and over (best example: once I dropped 2 metal rings on top of each stack of punched index cards as they went by on a conveyor belt, all day). I’d never be willing to do something like that full time. Even the more complex stuff was only ok.

@OhMarie Sometimes I wonder how much intellectual fulfillment I really need from my job. I mean, would I be happy if I could just pay minimal attention to the work I’m doing, and then maybe afterward I would have the mental energy to read and write and talk to people, and generally be fulfilled that way? Or do I need my work to be stimulating? I kind of love the days when I just have to do data entry all day and can kind of tune out a listen to podcasts, but maybe that’s because it’s not what I do every day.

@SarcasticFringehead I think non-stimulating days have their place (sometimes all I want to do is reports all day, and nothing creative) but I know for me, getting intellectual and creative fulfillment out of my job makes me more awesome in the rest of my life, not less. I had this idea a couple of years ago that I’d get a job that I could leave at the office (I was thinking receptionist or something) so I could use my creativity on my book. I lasted a week in a temp job before I realised how much it wasn’t going to work. Doing mind-numbing tasks all day drained my creativity and joie de vivre like nothing else. On the other hand, when I was going crazy with freelance work at the end of last year, my mind was on fire with creative projects I wanted to do for me – and I was actually doing them.

Would love to hear another side of the story. Does anyone work the opposite way, and get more creative if they earn their money in a less intellectually fulfilling field?

Sean Lai (#559)

If demand were high enough, companies would train people to do the jobs they need. These positions are going unfilled because our economy is under-producing in general, like Japan in the ’90s.

PS I am craving Sim City so hard right now. Is there an option where I can get paid $23/hr to play Sim City?

@SarcasticFringehead If Origin is to be believed, I spent almost as much time playing SimCity last week as working at my job, so if you find out please let me know.

@stuffisthings As I mentioned in the Hairpin Open Thread, I’m simultaneously working on my grad thesis and working full-time+, so I haven’t been able to get my fix and it’s driving me nuts. I took Tuesday “off” (I went to work but didn’t do any thesising), and I played for five hours straight.

PPS if I could commit to being around more than once or twice a week, I would totally say we should have a hairpin/billfold/etc. region.

@SarcasticFringehead I would def go to a Billfold… Fold-Up? I admit I felt a little awkward at the last/only Pin-Up I went to because, even though I love the site and community, Being a Lady is not exactly one of my core interests.

@stuffisthings I do love the idea of guys coming to pin-ups, but in reality they (at least the ones I go to) tend to get pretty quickly onto topics that most guys I know (even the most feminist ones) don’t exactly relate to. I wasn’t even thinking a Billfold meetup, though (although that would be excellent, I think), but that it could be super-fun to find all the Sim City players among us and all go be fiscally-responsible mayors together.

@SarcasticFringehead Oh I misread you, I see what you mean.

That is also a good idea! My favorite towns are all flaming hellpits, so I can take care of everyone’s trash (in the INCINERATOR where my impoverished Sims slave away when not abandoning buildings due to “Too many deaths.”)

@stuffisthings “People keep dying! It’s horrible!” Sorry, dudes. Gotta live through the industrial revolution, and then I’ll build nice cities on the backs of your labor.

I’m not even sure if I have the social stuff set up, but I usually play on the United States West 2 server, as SarcasticFringe. But like I said, until June/July, I can’t guarantee I’d be around enough to not be a really annoying deadbeat mayor.

limepies (#3,484)

i actually do work in a factory. i’m in canada, non union, and i work on the production line in a sawmill. i’m a “heavy equipment operator”. they train on anything and everything you need to know. before this i worked at starbucks. my wage at starbucks was 11/hour. my starting wage at the sawmill was 25/ hour. a year later i’m making 28. good vacation, good health insurance, it’s fantastic. totally worth it. the hours are long (usually 11 or 12 a day) and it’s mentally unfulfilling, but i tend to listen to the radio and mentally make wedding plans. i dunno. the pay and the insurance are a huge pull for me and i’ll probably be doing this till i can get an independant business off the ground.

ImASadGiraffe (#982)

I wouldn’t, only because I make $29/hr at my already mind-numbing gov’t job.

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